21 Century Learner Toolbox: EasyBib.com

easybib_2One of my goals this year as GA’s media specialist is to equip students with various Web 2.0 tools and skills that they can apply to their everyday learning and information needs.  The idea is they will take what they learn in the computer lab/library and use it in other areas in and out of school — whether it’s writing a history paper, finishing a multimedia presentation for another teacher, or researching the latest tech toy to hit the market.

One of the tools we’ve been using in the Academy is EasyBib.com, a free website that helps students generate citations in MLA, APA, and Chicago formats for their bibliography page. By doing a little detective work (e.g. who’s the author of the information, when was this information published, etc.), students can easily and quickly cite anything from web pages and books to video recordings and magazine/database articles.  Citations can be saved when students sign in with their G+ accounts, and even shared with collaborators in a group project!  This is a relevant skill for the 21st century learner since we consistently remind students to practice the responsible and ethical use of information (AASL Learning Standards 1.3.3, 2.3.3, 3.1.6, 4.3.4).  By citing resources they have used during the research process, students not only give due credit to the sources of their information, but enable themselves (and their readers!) to access that information in the future.


George, by Alex Gino


Title: George
Author: Alex Gino
Published: August 2015 by Scholastic Press
ISBN: 9780545812542

Summary: George is a fourth-grader with a secret — though everyone sees her as a boy, she knows she’s not — she knows she’s a girl.  When her teacher announces that the fourth graders are going to put on a play for the school, George and her best friend Kelly see it as her chance to reveal the truth.  She auditions for the role of Charlotte, her favorite character from Charlotte’s Web, but is told she can’t be cast as the spider since it’s a girl’s part.  Will George find another way to show her true self — Melissa — to the world, and will they accept her for who she is, once and for all?

Thoughts: I picked up this book after a recent censorship controversy with Kate Messner‘s newly published The Seventh Wish. In the many letters and reactions that came out of that, I kept seeing the title George being referenced as a prime example of school library censorship.  My local library happened to have all three of its copies available, so I picked it up.  Of course, the topic of the book is so relevant because of recent debates over bathroom laws — whether transgender people should be able to use bathrooms slated for genders that they identify with, rather than born in — and more recently, the tragic targeting of the LGBTQ community in the Orlando mass shootings.

The fact that the main character is a fourth-grader — same as my younger daughter — also intrigued me.  As a mom, am I ready — or knowledgeable enough — to broach the subject matter?  I have always been open with my kids about sex, giving them age-appropriate information as questions come up.  So in a way, a conversation about transgender people is just an extension of our conversations about private parts, gender roles, homosexuality, etc.  We have already talked a bit about the bathroom law and how they felt about it, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock to either of them that there are people who believe they were born in the wrong bodies.

As a librarian, and as someone who believes strongly in intellectual freedom, would I circulate this book in my library even if a few parents protest?  Would I limit borrowing rights to older kids (grades 5 and up)?  Would I require parental consent before letting the kids read them?  (Place too many obstacles though, and the book might never end up circulating!)  Would I recommend this book as a classroom or school read-aloud?  (It certainly deals with a topic that is relevant and prominent right now.)  And how will I handle the parents/administrators who want to censor it — as they most likely will?  (These questions are hypothetical because I am not currently working in a school library, but surely they are the same questions my employed librarian friends grapple with everyday.)

A little bit about the actual book itself.  Overall, it was well-written and an easy/quick read, though it definitely wasn’t light.  I asked myself this key question: What would I do if I were the mom in the story?  George’s mom has reservations at first about her revelation but eventually agrees to let George be true to herself, one small step at a time.  Her acceptance happens quickly in the story, within a week or so of George’s appearance as Charlotte in the play.  I wonder whether real life parents could adjust so fast.  I don’t think I’d love my children any less just because they come out as gay or trans, etc., but I think anyone would go through some natural stages of questioning and denial (“Maybe this is just a phase?”) and sadness (for the pain and struggle the child would have to go through as a trans person in a very judgemental world) and even loss (loss of a child and what you have believed him or her to be), etc.  The book addresses this a little bit, but I would have loved to see more on the inner struggles that the mom must have gone through.  (I guess that’d be in a book based on her point of view, not George’s!)  The same thing could be said about George’s older brother’s reaction and that of her best friend, Kelly (who thinks it’s so “awesome” to finally have a best girl friend to hang out with since she’s grown up with only boys).  I wish Gino would’ve explored their feelings a little deeper, rather than jump straight into Scott’s question of whether George would transition all the way by “snipping” it off, and Kelly and George’s stereotypical girly makeover scene. There’s got to be more about being a girl than just getting to dress up like one.  (That said, that probably would be one of the most important things to a fourth-grader.)

Now that I’m done with the book, I am passing it to my 10-year-old daughter.  I told her to read it and come to me at any time if she comes across words or ideas she didn’t understand.  I am eagerly awaiting her thoughts and her review.  Chances are, she’ll have a totally different take than I did, but hopefully, she’ll come away with a little more understanding of the diversity that is all around her and become a little kinder and more compassionate as a result.  Hopefully, she’ll come to realize that it’s okay to be different, that everyone is in different ways…that it’s important, even if it’s difficult and scary, to accept yourself for who you are, to be brave enough to stand up for what you believe to be true…to BE YOURSELF.


George resource page: http://www.alexgino.com/george/

Some discussion questions:

  • Why do you think the author chose to use the pronoun “she” when describing or referring to George?  Does this make a difference to the way you feel about the character?
  • How do you think George feels having to keep this big secret inside?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  Have you had to keep a secret about yourself — how does this make you feel?  Without revealing the secret (unless you feel comfortable), share or write about this experience and how you were affected.
  • George eventually reveals her secret to those she cares about.  How does this make her feel?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  What are some consequences of “hiding” vs. “being yourself”?
  • What do you think it takes to “be yourself”? What are some pros and cons of being who you are?  What are some other examples of “being yourself” that might be scary for kid?
  • Share or write about a time where you had to be brave enough to be who you are.  What made you finally do it, and what effects did the experience have on your life?
  • People reacted differently to George’s revelation. Discuss how they differed and possible reasons why (try to think about this from the person’s point of view).  How do you think you would react if you were each of these individuals?
    • Classmates
    • George’s mom and big brother
    • School teacher/principal
    • George’s best friend Kelly
    • Kelly’s dad and uncle
  • Discuss diversity, acceptance/tolerance, prejudice, bullying, compassion, etc.  Come up with real-life examples. What are some way your classroom/school/family/community could be more accepting of those who might be different from you?
  • Towards the end of the book, the author switches to the name Melissa when referring to George.  Why do you think he chose to do that?
  • Make a prediction about what George’s life might look like in the next year…the next five years…etc.






Reading & Teaching Esperanza

My daughter is reading Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan in her 6th grade ELA class and since it’s been on my list of books to read for a couple of YEARS I decided to read it with her.  It is a story that draws readers in almost immediately, and one that many can identify with and that many of us can learn from.  I found the audiobook version on YouTube (see below) and plan on playing it for my younger daughter.

You can find numerous teaching resources online (here’s one from Scholastic) and it would be perfect for lessons in character, perseverance, historical fiction, immigration, the Great Depression, or Mexican culture.  I love that my daughter’s ELA teacher has parents bring in various food items that serve as chapter titles so students can try different foods.  (A more elaborate activity could be to have students/parents bring in food items for a fiesta like the one detailed in the book.  Guest speakers from the community can also be invited to talk about their immigration experience or any personal connections they might have to this time in history.)

Other topics mentioned in the book that can be further discussed

  • Class divides: Why does Esperanza say that in Mexico there’s a river between her and Miguel?  Does the same divide exist in the US?
  • Immigration, migrant workers
  • Working conditions for migrant workers: Why do workers strike? What are pros and cons of striking?
  • Segregation
  • Dust storms
  • Discussion of various symbols in the book — the mountains and valleys in the blanket Esperanza is crocheting, the meaning behind her name, etc.
  • Other books about characters that had to persevere through difficult circumstances… For example, read Listening for Lions (Gloria Whelan) or The Higher Power of Lucky (Susan Patron) and discuss similarities and differences between the stories and characters.

Practicum Week 9: Bullying Incident

(This post was written in March…yup, I am just really LATE in these practicum updates.)

I was subbing for one of my mentors yesterday when a parent volunteer approached me with a boy behind her.  She said she’s been witnessing him verbally bullying two other kids in the media center and was wondering if I would kick him out.  He was of course very defensive and argued that he did not bully the students and that he should not get in trouble for what he said.  I felt like I was in a hard spot because I wasn’t within earshot when this happened and therefore didn’t feel like I’d have the authority to take any action (plus I hate these types of confrontations).  The parent said she’d give him another chance if he apologized, so he reluctantly went off to find the students.  After he sat back down at the computer I went over and asked to take down his name, so I can leave a note for my mentor.  At first he wouldn’t give it to me, saying he really shouldn’t get in trouble for what he did.  (I was a little shock that he wouldn’t just give it to me…that he would talk back to an adult in charge.)  I said I wasn’t out to get him in trouble, but as the sub I had to report the incident so the media specialists can address it when they come back.  I also reminded him that he was in the media center because he had a lunch pass, which was a privilege, not a right, and that the media specialists have sometimes taken passes away from students who were abusing them.  He scoffed and talked back some more (mainly about how he didn’t understand why his words would be considered a “bullying” act), but I again said this was something that the media specialists would address when they are back.

When I finally got his name (and confirmed it with one of his friends), I emailed my mentors and briefly filled them in.  I then found out that they’d had issues with this boy before, so they went ahead and forwarded my report to the principal and the counselor.  Later, at a staff meeting, teachers were reminded to use office referral forms when they are sending kids to the office or reporting an incident.  I’ve seen forms like this before at other schools and I like the idea of something formal for the teachers to submit and the parents to read and sign.  Otherwise, it ends up just being a he said, she said type situation, or the students might not take the incident as seriously.  I am waiting to hear what the administration decides to do with this particular boy, but since he’s a repeat offender I am guessing some of his privileges will be reduced.

Update: Before I left this portion of my practicum, the same boy got into trouble at least one more time, this time for altering his grades on the school district’s student portal, then printing out a copy for his parents.  He lost media center and computer privileges for 2 weeks (I think), but I am not sure if he suffered more serious consequences at home.  Incidents like this make me think hard about what I would do as a parent, if my children got involved in activities like this.  And, what would I do if I were the teacher/media specialist?  What would be some consequences that would lead to actual behavior change???


Practicum Week 8: Copyright & Fair Use

(This practicum reflection was written in March, 2015.)

This week my mentors and I continued to work on March Reading Madness and Scholastic Book Fair-related tasks.  Today was the last day of the book fair, and we very happily packed up everything and printed out necessary sales reports.  Next week we’ll have one last thing to juggle!  I got a chance to direct parent volunteers as they came in to help with various aspects of MRM (decorate raffle prize case, hang up posters, deliver program kits to teachers, etc.), and was finally able to finish our display for the book bracket and get the online voting form going.

A couple of interesting things happened this week:

  1. My mentor warned me this might happen, but I actually caught a few kids trying to shoplift from the book fair!  I hate being the “bad guy” — especially since I am a new face in the media center — so I pointed the kids out to my mentor when I suspected something was happening.  She said that usually, the problem is easily solved when she walks over and asks — in a friendly way — whether they need help, or simply ask, “Are you buying that?  If not, try not to play with it too much.”  Sure enough, when she did this, the kids stopped what they were doing and left.  I guess one thing I need to do between now and getting a real job in the library is to grow a thicker skin…or rather, shed the side of me that is afraid of confrontation/needs to be liked by everyone.
  2. On Dr. Seuss Day, one of the parapros came in and asked if we could play “Horton Hears a Who” on the TV in the cafeteria during the students’ lunch hour.  We didn’t think anything of it, created the request form, and let them play the video.  At the end of the day though, my mentor received an email from the school’s tech facilitator, who had heard about this and questioned whether she had violated a copyright/fair use rule.  When my mentor turned to me for my opinion, my first instinct was that no, this wasn’t a violation, but an instance of fair use (I was just studying this for my Comps!).  However, because I am a huge nerd, I decided to do a bit more research (also in case the tech facilitator asks for “proof” that we were right).  Apparently, while showing a movie (or a clip of a movie) in a classroom or similar instructional setting is considered fair use — it has instructional purpose — showing it in the cafeteria as a celebration makes the showing an instance of “public performance” and therefore a violation of copyright laws.  I am assuming, then, that even showing a movie inside a classroom, if it’s not for “education”, but for “entertainment” (e.g. during class parties, etc.), is also a violation of copyright/fair use?  Am I understanding it correctly?

According to my mentor, showing movies during celebrations/parties has always been a sore spot for the tech facilitator in this district, and in the past the teachers/media specialists have always played ignorant.  I know from my kids being in school that movies are played all the time during parties or celebrations.  What would you do if you were approached (by teachers, principals, etc.) about playing a movie in such circumstances (non-educational) and you were aware of the copyright/fair use rule against such activities?  Would you stick to the rule books, or turn a blind eye since this is something that’s done everywhere???

Practicum Week 7: Into the Classroom!

(This post was written back in February/March.  I am a bit behind on the practicum updates but hope to catch up this week!)

This week at Hart was a perfect storm of March Reading Madness (a month-long reading program), a 1 1/2 week long Scholastic Book Fair, preparations for Authors in April, digital citizenship classes, and the 8th grader’s research gallery walk (where parents are invited to see students present their research papers).  The media specialists and I were all juggling multiple projects during the day and communicating through Google Docs by night.  I am starting to see that I prefer interacting and teaching students, even though the busy work of putting together different programs (making posters, raffle tickets, book brackets, setting up for the bookfair, selling books, calling vendors for donations, etc.) is in some ways easier/less stressful.  (When I have a lot to get done in a short amount of time, to-do lists comfort me.  They are great visual reminders to take one step at a time, that everything will get done, that there’s an end goal in sight, etc.)

I really enjoyed getting to teach digital citizenship classes to four 6th grade classes and 2 7th grade classes.  Some I taught by myself, some I taught with the media specialist, and one I taught with the health teacher.  I really liked teaching solo and with the media specialist, but not so much with the health teacher, mainly because I had to teach his material.  It was really hard to go through someone’s slides, because the health teacher had different stories that he wanted to share with the students that I couldn’t possibly know about, so he kept interrupting me to add his points.  Though he did this politely, I thought it made me looked unprepared in front of the students.  I felt that it would’ve gone better if he let me insert my own anecdotes when I was speaking, because ultimately we were both giving students examples of online safety, netiquette, etc. and it shouldn’t matter whether they heard his specific stories or not.

When I co-taught with the media specialist, we used a presentation I had put together, but she and I had sat down a couple of times to discuss each point, and together we added or took out information that we thought were important or redundant.  We collaborated well, and in the classroom, when she was speaking she’d ask me if I wanted to add anything, and I’d do the same when I was speaking.  The process seemed easier with her…possibly because I have been working with her now for two weeks, whereas the health teacher and I have never crossed paths before the first class.

In our sessions with the 6th graders we also decided to let the students talk instead of us lecturing them about the topic.  For the most part, the students enjoyed the interaction…they had many stories to tell!  We also decided to use a simple exit ticket to assess whether they were paying attention to our presentation, whether they learned anything new, had any concerns or questions, or had suggestions for topics we didn’t cover.  I was impressed by some of the students’ feedback, and concerned too that so many of them (still babies in my mind!) were worried about being bullied, or having to stand up to bullies, etc.

Overall, this was a great week.  I’d heard many horror stories about middle-schoolers, but they were actually pretty cool to work with!

Practicum Week 6: Middle School

(This post was written back in February.  I am a bit behind on my practicum updates will try to catch up this week!)

This week I started my placement at Hart Middle.  The media specialist position is shared by two librarians — Audrey S. (Monday/Tuesday) and Kristi T. (Wedneday through Friday) — who are known in the school community for being highly effective and enthusiastic, and I am looking forward to learning from them.

One of the biggest differences between elementary and middle school is that middle school media specialists are on a flex schedule.  One of the last things I did at Hampton was attend a district wide media specialist meeting where the director hinted at the possibility of elementary media specialists going to a flex schedule starting next year (the “library” special would be replaced by a “foreign language” special), and many LMS present were understandably concerned — not just for their job security, but how they would be able to effectively carry out the goals of the ILS program if they aren’t seeing classes regularly.  I promised my mentor there that I would pay attention to how flexible schedule is done at Hart and report back anything they might find useful at an elementary school level.

What I learned during my first week about flex scheduling at the middle school level…

  • You can go a long time without going into a class or have a class come see you.
  • It’s up to you to seek out opportunities to collaborate with teachers.  Even though many of them probably could use the help, they are usually too busy to seek it out.  Some might think you don’t have anything to offer to them.  Some are so afraid of new technology they are unwilling to have you show them how it can be incorporated in the class.
  • Even when there’s obvious areas where LMS can insert themselves, some opportunities seem to be lost.  There are classes being taught at Hart on digital citizenship, internet safety, and something called “tools for success”, where students learn about different web tools/apps and research skills that will help them in their middle school years.  However, one of these classes is being regularly offered by the Health teacher, and one is taught by rotating teachers (who are put on the rotation for no specific reason other than they have a free period on a certain day).  I asked why these aren’t taught by LMS, or at least co-taught.  The health teacher, I was told, has a really great PowerPoint that he’s been adding to for the last couple of years, and since internet safety/digital citizenship are related to personal safety, the administration feels like the health teacher is the natural person to teach it.  I wonder why they wouldn’t at least collaborate though, since these topics are also standards that should be taught in the media center.
  • I was asked to put together a presentation on digital citizenship/cyberbullying for 6th graders next week, which I started working on, using resources found on Commonsensemedia.org, etc.  We are planning a teaching portion, whole group activity (where we will watch a video, then discuss what we saw), and then break out into small groups.  I am looking forward to doing this with 6th graders because it’s such an important topic, but I wonder again why the LMS are not doing this more often.  This could also be a great opportunity to collaborate with the health teacher, who already HAS a great presentation we could use and build upon.  A lot of time and energy could be saved if they recognize that they are teaching the same thing and find a way to share these resources.
  • Because we didn’t see any classes this week, most of my tasks were focused on some big events/projects that are coming up: Scholastic Book Fair next week (Feb 25-March 6), March Reading Madness, and Authors In April.  MRM is a BIG deal and so I spent a few days creating displays, reading logs, raffle tickets, posters, etc., and brainstorming with Audrey and Kristi how everything will work.  We also had to contact different local vendors to see if they’d donate coupons that we could use as prizes.  I might help them create a website and digital book bracket that the students can vote on.

My big question this week is about fixed vs. flex scheduling.  It seems like flex scheduling works better for middle/high schools (if only because there is no way you could see all the students in a week) but what are some ways to ensure that you are still seen as necessary and effective?  Is flex scheduling better or worse in terms of job security?