Because I Say So

The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement is the trend of making the most cutting-edge knowledge available to everyone, through a variety of ways including online classes from top universities being made available to the public, open lesson plans, and open textbooks.

I believe our school district could greatly benefit from the use of open textbooks. A few years ago, the textbook clerk positions were eliminated throughout the district and our librarians have been “unofficially” assigned the task of handling textbooks.  This is much more problematic than it sounds since we already manage our libraries by ourselves without clerks or any other additional help, many textbook storage areas are physically nowhere near the library so we’re expected to be in two places at once, and some of our schools have up to 1800 students.  This is a lot of textbooks for one person to physically move and scan in and out while trying to maintain a library. If students were given access to online open textbooks, this problem could be solved.

I looked at the open textbooks resources provided and found many choices for the classes we would need. It was not difficult at all to find them; many sites such as OpenStax and CK-12  make it easy to locate textbooks by subject and at a variety of levels.  Of course, these textbooks would first have to be approved by our Board of Education but they should feel confident that these textbooks have been peer-reviewed and are of high quality.  Their content is aligned to standards, including common core.  Many of them are also FREE.  Even if there was a cost, using online textbooks would save our district money because I am estimating (based on my own school) that about a quarter of our textbooks are not returned or are damaged each year, and many of these textbooks cost around $80 each.

There are also other benefits of moving away from typical textbooks. Students could be given access to primary source documents instead of just reading summaries, for example, making learning more interactive.  Using open textbooks also allows for students to have quicker access to any new knowledge or updates that may come.

The U.S. Department of Education’s #GoOpen movement recognizes the benefits of OER.  I am hopeful that this movement will continue to grow, for the benefit of everyone – teachers, students, and particularly students (meaning anyone who wants to learn!) who wouldn’t normally have access to the best content out there.



Augmented Reality (AR) is technology in which you supplement something in the real world, for example pointing your smartphone at something and additional information will appear on your screen.  This could be an image like when playing the Pokémon Go game, related titles when pointing at a particular book in a library, or seeing a video containing a mini lesson when pointing at a certain location.  AR has many uses from the business world to recreation to education.  Aurasma is one such AR app that is fairly well-known and is an easy tool for introducing AR into the classroom.

Virtual Reality is a step above this.  I was lucky to attend a Google camp where all the participants received a Google Cardboard viewer in our welcome kit!  At the time, most of us had no idea what it was. The instructors had to keep telling everyone to not throw it out because we’d hear more about it soon enough.  I downloaded something called “Sisters” which allowed me to “experience” sitting by myself in a room during a storm and ended with a pretty good scare involving a doll. It felt almost real and was a very cool introduction to Virtual Reality (I love scary movies)!

So how could Virtual Reality be used in a classroom?  There are so many apps available now with educational content.  I looked at a few of the suggestions and my favorite is probably Timelooper.  Imagine a classroom of students wearing Google Cardboard and instead of just learning about landmarks in New York City, they can feel like they’re on the Empire State Building while it is being built in 1931!  Or on a ship with Polish immigrants in 1919 and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time!  If you don’t own Google Cardboard or another VR headset, you can still experience Timelooper with just your phone.  I only wish you could “visit” all their experiences without having to actually be in the area.  I am able to access some of the New York content, but it would be great, for example, if you could celebrate the Fall of the Berlin Wall from your classroom in the U.S.  Not all of their content is free, but a fair amount is. Timelooper’s site does say that new locations are being added all the time, and I am certain other VR experiences like theirs will become available for classroom use too!

I decided to revisit Goodreads for Thing 37.  I am a fan of LibraryThing, but I do have a Goodreads account (I miss Shelfari) and am very aware of its popularity.  I just love admiring my collection on LibraryThing…

Goodreads is definitely more social.  There are so many ways to engage with a community of book lovers with similar interests.  You can read reviews and join discussions of course, but you can also see recommendations and find new books to read based on books you’ve enjoyed.  I’ll have to remember to use Goodreads to help with book recommendations for my students, and for my collection development.  What piqued my interest this time visiting Goodreads, though, was the book challenges.

The Goodreads Challenge Tracker allows you to set a goal for the number of books you want to read each year.  To help you keep pace, you will see a challenge tracker at the bottom of your screen letting you know how many books you’ve read, how close you are to your goal, and whether or not you’re on track to meeting your goal.  Wow!  This sounds like it could be both stressful and fulfilling!

I have no idea how I’m going to come up with the number of books I want to set as my goal, but this is a challenge I’m up for, and I can’t wait to start encouraging my students to join too!



For Thing 41, we were encouraged to find any Google tool or topic that we want to learn more about.  From the suggested resources, I chose to explore 10 Google Apps Tricks to Learn for 2017, from the Teacher Tech blog by Alice Keeler.  Here I learned several handy tips when using Google Docs.  I will be able to use these right away, as I am involved in several professional activities where members collaborate via Google Docs.

I guess I was aware that Google Docs shows revision history, but I never thought much about it.  This would be very useful if you wanted to revert a document to what it was before someone’s revisions (for example, if their “corrections” were incorrect!) You simply have to look at the revision history and restore the revision back to an earlier version.  No need to worry so much about putting your document out there for unwanted changes!

I was not aware of the plus mention feature.  Not only can you direct a specific person’s attention to a comment by putting a plus sign before their email address, but you can assign a task to a person.  If you filter the document to show action items that need to followed up on, you can see what tasks were assigned to you.  This is very helpful when working as a group on a document.

I’m also going to take Ms. Keeler’s advice regarding the Control Slash feature. This opens up keyboard shortcuts and a great suggestion is made to learn one keyboard shortcut a week.

Most importantly from this “Thing,” I was introduced to the Teacher Tech blog and Alice Keeler. There is a ton of information, advice, and tech tips on her blog and I immediately began following her on twitter!

{January 4, 2017}   Thing 16: Media Skills


I’m so excited! With the start of a new Cool Tools for School workshop, I chose to explore Media Skills for my first lesson. My online picture posting is very lacking in creativity and I’ve been wanting to play around with photo editing.

I explored several of the activity ideas listed. Creating a “past & present” photo looks very cool and I plan to do that as soon as I come up with a cute idea and find the “past” pictures I want to use. I’m thinking I want to find an old picture of my school library to compare to today. Our school is one of the oldest in the city, and the now 2-story library used to be the gym! It would be fun to play around with old yearbook pictures compared to different scenes in the school today, and display the “past & present” pictures on a bulletin board.

GIF’s are so popular now so I learned how to make an animated GIF. I also tried to explore Fotojet because it looked like a great photo editing tool, but unfortunately we are not able to download programs to our district laptops, and Fotojet does not yet have a mobile version. So I explored pixlr instead, and I’m so glad I did!  I ended up making a collage of a great memory for the high school cheer team I coach, winning the county championship last year. It took a little time to get the collage just the way I wanted, but I’m very happy with what I ended up with. My plan is to start using Instagram more, now that I can make my photos a little more interesting.  Instagram seems more popular with the teenagers I know than twitter and definitely more popular than facebook, so I think it would be fun to have a library Instagram account that I can update with all kinds of pictures of what’s going on in our library!




{May 16, 2016}   Bonus Thing: Connect!

I chose connecting with other Cool Tool participants as my last lesson for the year because I thought it would be interesting, and it was!  I learned other people’s perspectives on tools that I may not have given a second thought to, in particular blogging.  I never really liked it, but after reading a classmate’s post on Thing 1: Blogging, I do have to admit I need to reconsider it in the classroom.  Especially after reading Why Students Should Blog.


This lesson was also a chance to revisit a tool I had learned about in the past, Thing 2: Photo Fun. In this blog post, I was reminded of the importance of copyright.


Of course, technology changes quickly, and on my third blog visit I discovered new tools for topics that I had already covered in a previous Cool Tools track, Thing 14: Media Tools


Bonus Thing: Connect was even more helpful to me than I anticipated!

{May 16, 2016}   Thing 39: News Literacy

News literacy involves teaching students how to judge the reliability of the many news sources that are available to us now.  This Thing provided a variety of tools and sources to learn more about and to help teach news literacy skills.

A great introduction to the importance of news literacy is the Ted Talk  Finding a cure for newsmosis a civic disease ravaging America: Howard Schneider.  Schneider says there are three questions we should answer every time we engage with the news:  1. Who is giving me this news/is this an independent, accountable source?  2. What do I know/what is the evidence in the story to support the conclusion?  3. What don’t I know/what information is missing?   Along with answering these questions, we need to have the courage to be willing to accept information that challenges our belief system and to be open to information that we don’t like or don’t want to see.  If we can do these things, we can avoid mindless news control or “newsmosis.”

One of the tools in Thing 39 that I would like to begin using with students is Newsela.  This site has news articles written at different reading levels and in Spanish.  This would be so helpful for our ESL students!  Not only are there current events here, but you can find famous speeches such as Frederick Douglass’ “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery” and Susan B. Anthony’s “Women’s Rights to the Suffrage.”   Newsela is also a great resource for text sets, a collection of articles based on a common theme, such as “Play Ball!”  This is a great tool to help a student learn more about a topic they’re interested in and help them develop news literacy skills.

{May 15, 2016}   Thing 38: App-palooza!

For Thing 38, we were given many sources for apps to explore.  The Top 50 Sites and Apps of 2015 is always a great place to start.  I highly recommend bookmarking this site because I have found myself visiting it often.  This is usually my first introduction to many great apps.  “Monster Math” and “Erase All Kittens” just look so fun!  But of course, they’re also educational, teaching math and coding skills!

Through the Smart Apps for Kids website, I came across an article titled “Tech That Teaches: 15 Smart Apps for Curious Kids.”  I have to admit, every single app on this page caught my interest.  Trivia Crack, for example, lets kids play against their friends in subjects including science, entertainment, art, geography, sports, and history. Many of these apps are free, and the rest are $4 or less.

David Kapuler, who compiled the Top 50 Sites and Apps list, points out that 2015 saw a lot of game-based learning.  This is great to see because we know how much more kids are willing to learn if it’s also fun!

Digital portfolios are a great way to allow students the ability to have an archive of their work.  This goes much further than saving documents, since it can also include written work, scanned work, photos, video and audio.  I really like the idea of having an easy way to keep things from year to year, because it’s so easy to lose track of all the paperwork that students create.  As a parent, I know this all too well!  Digital portfolios can keep everything organized and in a “safe” place.

While I use and am a huge fan of Evernote, I believe Google Sites would be the best option for students.  Almost every student is already familiar with Google.  It would be easy for them to use, and easy for them to share what they put on it with others.  I have to say I would be concerned about using one of the lesser known eportfolios because someday they may no longer be supported.  It’s a little nerve-wracking when you get notified that you need to find a new site to transfer everything to (which happened to me with Shelfari  and a photo hosting site I can no longer remember the name of).  I would like to believe Google is here to stay…

School librarians can have a key role by teaching students how to create and build their own digital portfolio.  As students go from teacher to teacher, their use of a digital portfolio will vary. School librarians can encourage students to regularly utilize and contribute to their portfolio whether the teacher requires it or not.  In fact, I may have to make it a goal this summer to create eportfolios for my own children (a high school sophomore and college freshman) for myself as a way to preserve their artwork, letters, stories, and other memorable items I’d like to keep from their earlier school years!





{May 4, 2016}   Thing 37: DIY

I rejoined Cool Tools with Thing 37: DIY which once again provided participants with a variety of tools that we could choose from.  I visited each of the sites listed and found every one a great resource for keeping up with new technology tools.  The Top 100 Tools for Learning was the most beneficial to me. This is an annual survey of educators from around the world. It also notes how far up the list some tools have moved, showing which ones are increasing the most in popularity.  I was not familiar with about half of the big movers so you can bet I chose to check these out first! My favorite of the entire list, however, was something I am familiar with, Khan Academy.  This is just such a great place for students, parents, and teachers to find help on just about any subject. I have added the Top 100 Tools for Learning  to my favorites bar and will definitely revisit it often!

et cetera