Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pebble Go

Although the Alabama Virtual Library offers several good databases for elementary aged children, they can still be a bit complicated for the youngest students in our buildings. 

Pebble Go is the best database for early childhood that I've ever used, and teachers of all grades here at North Highland LOVE using it with their children. You pay an annual subscription fee to have access, and then you will be given a school-wide user name and password to use. Our PTA paid for it the first year, and I have used library funds to split it with PTA the two years we've had it since then. Because it benefits every child in the school, the PTA really enjoys using their funds on this service. 

If you decide to subscribe, begin sending home notices to parents with the school login information. Print each teacher a sign for their class with the user name and password printed, and post several in your library and computer lab. 

Here are a few great reasons my teachers and students love Pebble Go:

Pebble Go truly is created for young readers/learners. It has all the basic features of a "big boy" database, but in simplistic terms and clicks that even first-week-of-school kindergarteners can operate. 

There are 3 different individual databases from which to choose (you can subscribe to one or all three). We use Animals most often with the lower grades, but the upper grades like Earth & Space and Biographies as well. Each database is filled with categories and sub-categories of entries. Here is an example of what you would see in PebbleGo Animals: 

Students can choose a category of animals and then a sub-category until they find an animal they are interested in. Most article have a "Watch" button, which students can click to view a short video of the animal in action. Each article also has a button students can click to have the article read to them aloud. Hyperlinked words provide students with definitions to unfamiliar terms as well. 

Each article also has printing capability and citation support, which will generate a citation for students to use in reporting their research. It's always good to promote ethical use of information even from the very beginning! 

If you have any questions about Pebble Go or would like to order it for your school, I can direct you to the vendor who represents this company in our area. Just shoot me an email! 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Alabama Virtual Library: Britannica Learning Zone

Another of our gems in the Alabama Virtual Library is Britannica Learning Zone. Though it is not searchable, it is a great database for the early childhood years. The interface is very simplistic and user-friendly. Once students "click to enter," they have four main categories from which to choose: Explore, Play, Read, or Draw. 

There are also several other content categories students may select. They include First Steps, I Can Read, Numbers, Sounds, Time, Words, etc. These scroll slowly across the bottom of the page, marquee-style to ease students' process of selection.  

One interesting feature is that once students enter BLC, the task bar as well as any additional open tabs are removed from the internet page, making it very difficult for the students to leave the site. I have a few little angels who like to click their way around the universe before I can stop them, so this is another very desirable feature for working with young children. :)

If students choose the "Explore" category, they can choose continents to learn about. Once they choose a continent, they can pick a specific area and one click will display a short video of life on that continent. This is an excellent feature for English Learners, as we work to build up their background knowledge about various topics. 

"Play" will take them to simple literacy and math games (instructions read aloud). 

"Read" will provide various words and definitions, with sample sentences (also read aloud). 

"Draw" is a more simplistic version of Microsoft Paint, but will permit printing so students can carry their work out of the library or computer lab. 

The only improvement I would suggest for BLC is to enable searching. Searching is the heart of information literacy, and even our youngest should be learning how to recognize and use search boxes. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Labels, Labels, Labels

Do you label your books with Accelerated Reader information? I do. This is common practice in many elementary libraries, and for several good reasons:
  • when used with STAR reading ranges, sticker labels help guide students to the books that are "just right" for them
  • they provide a clear visual to the amount of books your collection has on each grade level; a quick walk through your shelves will show if you need more books of a certain range
  • they help students find books with which they will experience success, and quickly (classroom time is precious indeed, and the more efficient we can make book browsing for students, the better all around)
These are good reasons for labeling books. After all, our goal is to make library use as easy as possible for students. Right? 



The American Association of School Librarians feels otherwise. Take a look at AASL's policy on labeling books:

Granted, some of AASL's concerns stem from the fact that lots of libraries are not only using labels but are organizing their shelving by labels (not adhering to standards of the profession), and that is most definitely a valid concern. We should be teaching students how libraries work, not just how OUR library works. If they understand that the Fiction books are in ABC order everywhere, then we have given them the key which unlocks every school, public, and eventually academic library they will ever use. This is a pretty big deal. 

Another of AASL's points about labels is that it violates the privacy of our students. Think about that. Do you have a 4th grader reading on a 1st grade level? I do. Whose business is it that he is not reading on grade level? His, his teachers', his parents', and mine. Certainly not other students, but they will be able to see that if he is carrying around books with 1st grade stickers on the spine. 


Personally, I have never, not once, in 10 years of serving in this profession, ever heard of a student being bullied or made fun of because of his or her reading level. But I also know that there is a lot that goes on behind the social scenes of kids that not even the most perceptive, Eagle Eye teacher can catch. I don't want to contribute to making any child in my school a target. 

My plan is to compromise between AASL's standards and what my teachers want in keeping AR labels (and encouraging students to choose books within their range) but placing them in a more discreet location. This will take some time, but I plan to eventually remove all spine labels and begin to teach students to look inside the cover of their book for AR reading level information. This will take require more browsing time for the students, and it will take away my ability to sweep my eyes across the collection and notice deficiencies, but remember that 4th grade kid on a 1st grade level? 

He's worth it.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


*This post is by Carla Leake Crews, one of the school librarians serving at Shades Valley High School/JCIB. 

In theOctober post titled Screen RecordingTools, Michelle posed the question “What other ways can you use/have you used screen recorders in the library?” Our library has recently used to create tutorials and capture on-screen information. It is web-based, FREE software that records everything happening on your computer screen while you narrate! After showing teachers how to use this site at one of our recent Teacher Tech workshops, teachers commented on how easy it was to use…. no email registration, no software downloads, and no file conversions! There are a variety of screen capture softwares available, including Jing, CamStudio, Screenr, and Movavi. But, I’ll tell you a little more about Screencast-o-matic since our library found it easy to use and within our budget. 

What you need:
  1. For Screencast-o-matic, you need the most recent version of Java installed on your computer. See for downloads (Not sure if you have Java? The “Do I have Java?” button from the site’s main page can check your computer for the software and/or latest version).
  2. A microphone. Laptops generally have internal microphones. You will need to attach an external microphone if using a desktop computer.

What to do:
  1. Go to and click on the blue “Start Recording” button.
  2. Fit the dotted lines around the portion of your screen that you want to record.
  3. There is a menu bar at the bottom of the dotted box. You may want to adjust the recording volume before you begin.

  1. Record your presentation.
  2. Click “done” and preview your recording.
  3. If you are pleased with the recording, you can choose to upload or save your video. The “publish to video file” option will allow you to save the video to your computer or jump drive.
  4. Select the file type for your video. This should be determined by what program you will use to play back the video. For example, if you record a video on a MacBook, save it to a jump drive, and want to transfer it to a Windows machine, you want to select the “Windows Media Player (AVI)” save option. On this same menu, there are options for adding notes and captions to your recording. Don’t forget the SAVE button all the way down at the bottom!

Would those instructions be easier to understand if I showed you? Certainly! Here’s a brief tutorial:

How to share your video with others:
  • If students will be viewing your video from school computers, you can save the video to a jump drive and transfer it to the student machines.
  • If you want to send parents or teachers a link to your video, you will need a site to host your video: YouTube, TeacherTube, SchoolTube, etc. You upload your recording and then send people a link to the site so they can view it. Some screen recording tools, such as Jing and Screencast-o-matic, will also host your videos on their sites. Sometimes the hosting requires a paid membership (Screencast-o-matic’s Pro account is currently $12 a year; Jing will host a limited amount for free at
  • Upload the video file to your JefCoEd SharePoint page.

Screencasting ideas for librarians:
  • Create and post a video that shows students and parents how to register and log hours for Scholastic’s summer reading program
  • Create a video demonstration that reminds students how to access the school’s OPAC from home or navigate the AVL databases
  • Create and post videos for teachers that shows them how to use a new software or website
Screencasting ideas for students:
  • Be the tour guide of a virtual museum – have students record themselves as they “walk” viewers through the online content of the Smithsonian Institute or Modern Museum of Art
  • Create your own digital story – after using an online comic generator to produce comic strips or mini graphic novels, have students narrate their story
Screencasting ideas for teachers:
  • Record lessons/PowerPoint slides with voice-over narration. Post these for students who are absent, students who need to hear an explanation more than once, or even leave a recorded lesson for a substitute teacher.
  • Record yourself correctly pronouncing words that you have typed on the screen. This type of tutorial could be used with new readers, ESL learners, and older students who take foreign language courses.

The possibilities are endless! Anything you can display on your computer screen can be captured in movie format. Give it a try… you may end up adding “producer and director” to your job description!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Alabama School Library Association Summer Conference 2012

The Alabama School Library Association summer conference will take place June 12 at Mountain Brook High School in Birmingham. The theme is "Navigating the Standards".

Conference events include poster sessions, opportunities to meet authors and purchase their books, and browsing the vendors. Breakout sessions include technology-inspired lessons, creating book trailers, and teaching information-seeking skills.

Opportunities abound for presenting poster sessions and breakout sessions . If interested in either, please e-mail Elizabeth Hester at

This conference is a bargain for under $50 which includes lunch and time to meet with other school librarians in your district. More information can be found at the Alabama School Library Association website.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

School Libraries Count!

Each year the American Association of School Librarians conducts a survey measuring, among many other things, the impact of school librarians. This data is used to defend our positions and proves our effectiveness.

You do not need to be a member of AASL to complete the survey (though you really should be a member of AASL!).

Go here to take the 2012 School Libraries Count Survey. 

The last day to take the survey is March 15, 2012.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Alabama Homework Help

No one wants homework on Valentine's night, but it happens! That's when Alabama Homework Help can assist in helping to save the day for students. Help students navigate to feel the love of live teachers available to help from 3:00 until 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

The Jefferson County Library Cooperative is where they will log in and click on the Services tab. Once there, click on Homework Help. Students will need their public library card to log in to the site.

It's an invaluable resource that also offers Homework Resources, Test Prep Resources, and Career Resources all of which are available 24/7.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fillable Forms

*This post is by Valissa Burnham, the school librarian at Hueytown Middle School.

Creating Fillable Forms on Microsoft Word   (*Keep in mind that this will not work with Word 2003 and earlier versions.)

Click on the Office Button

Click “Word Options” at the bottom

Click “Popular” on the left side

Put a check next to “Show Developer Tab in the Ribbon”

As you create your document (or add to a document already created) click on the Developer tab at the top of the screen to add the areas that you want people to be able to change.  The buttons are found in the “Controls” group.  Hover over each button to see what it will do.  For example:  The “Aa” button will add a space for Rich Text. 

Once you finish creating the document, click on “Protect Document."  Then click “Restrict Formatting and Editing."  Put a check next to “Allow only this type of editing in the document:” Click the drop down box and click “Filling in Forms.”  Click “Yes, Start Enforcing Protection.”  It will ask you to create a password.  Do not forget the password you create, or you will not be able to edit the document.  

Once you have done this, people will only be able to edit the areas you have designated with the buttons in the Developer Tools.  If you need to edit the document again, click “Protect Document” then “Stop Protection." You will have to enter the password you just created.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Are You Game?

The week that Alabama is celebrating Digital Learning is the same week that I am offering old-fashioned board games during our Basic Skills classes in the library. How ironic is that?! The three gaming days are meant to reward students for doing well in Basic Skills (reading and math remediation) and to offer them a different type of learning.

It thrills my heart to see students learn to play checkers, chess, and Scrabble. They have learned how to spell a few words and they have learned about strategy. One student asked, "Is this (foney) how to spell phony?" and many times throughout the twice daily gaming sessions they have asked, "Is this a word?" So, yes, it has been worthwhile and lots of fun!

Students Enjoying Scrabble

Signage for the Event
How it was planned:
  • Permission from the principal - explaining the purpose and audience
  • A survey was sent to teachers with three questions (inquiring whether they would support the endeavor)
  • E-news was sent home to parents asking for small prize donations (Airheads and mechanical pencils)
  • Gather the games: Teachers donated games from the Dollar Store
  • Teachers brought in games to borrow - one teacher had nine Scrabble games
  • Tablecloths (leftover from Scholastic Bookfairs) were set out for the games
  • Student Aides made signage
  • A schedule was sent to teachers & sign up sheets were placed on the library counter
Many articles are available on Google Scholar regarding gaming supporting learning.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cookin' the Books

What are your circulation records doing? A skilled librarian once said, "Put everything on your calendar - even if it's something that occurs last minute - to justify what you do and so people can see what is going on in the library". It's all about transparency, isn't it? Well, the same thing can be said of circulation records.

When a teacher asks you to pull books and have them available for a project for using IN the library, check them out to the teacher. It increases the circulation of your library and the teacher IS using the books, so there's no need to worry about "cooking the books!" It's legit! This whole idea sprang from a discussion that Sheri' (my library aide my right arm) and I had. A class had come in and we discussed whether to check out the books to the teacher. We decided we absolutely should to which Sheri' replied, "I don't think anybody's going to think we're cookin' the books!"
However, if you are looking for ways to increase circulation in your library, here are a few ideas:

  • Create great displays and keep them coming! Once they empty out, replenish!
  • Banned book displays, Coretta Scott King winner displays, series displays all work well.
  • Movie book displays are always a winner.
  • Suggest to teachers who don't visit the library that often to check out books to ignite discussion in the classroom (a science teacher might want to check out books for students to browse and thumb through after a test).
  • Students often will come to the library to check out a book that a teacher has briefly used to teach a reading skill - so be ready for suggestions for teachers! They often indirectly influence what kids want to read.
  • Teachers often dash in quickly and ask for some examples of informational text - I have given them ESL brochures with barcodes, technology how-to books without barcodes, and newspapers. Rule #1: Check out anything with a barcode.
  • Teachers and substitutes often come in for a book or magazine saying, "I will be right back with it. Do you really want to check it out?" The answer is yes! Not only does it increase your circulation records, but you know where your resources are.
  • There are also the ubiquitous reading contests that will help increase circulation.
  • Programs in your library can help increase circulation: Create a display surrounding the program - Someone from the Civil Rights Museum is coming? Create a display. Having a gaming day in your library as a reward? Create a display on board games, sports, and word games. 
  • What is your library doing to increase circulation? There must be many ideas out there to share.
Just keep those books cookin'! Check them out so they will reflect well on the circulation records of your library (the cooked books on the stove above are courtesy of our Teen Living classroom).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

First Friday: February

This week holds the state department's First Friday session for February. Log in to either the 9:30 session or 1:00 session to hear Carolyn Starkey discuss eReaders in the school library!