Hey, #FutureReadyLibs, new #AASLstandards show #makerspace not a fad

Copy of #FutureReadyLibs Take on AASL MakerspaceIf you’ve been in education as long as me (Um…wow…20+ years), you’ve surely seen educational trends come and go and watched the pendulum swing on what are considered educational priorities. So, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some librarians are sitting back and waiting to see if the library makerspace trend is going to go out of style.

For much of my English teaching career (before I became a librarian), reading and writing across the curriculum was all the rage, and my expertise in these areas was appreciated by teachers across the content areas, who were all of the sudden expected to be teachers of reading and writing on top of their own content. Yet, the pendulum has swung in recent years, and now STEM and STEAM are everything. (Those smarties in Art got in on the acronym action early, and now we are left to awkwardly try to slip in an R for reading, to make it STREAM,).

If you aren’t teaching “design thinking” or “novel engineering,” you are behind the times, dear literacy-loving friends. And, while I do believe Humanities will get their due again eventually (at least I hope so– especially given the way modern life seems to resemble more and more those dystopian novels that fly off the shelves in my library), I have to tell you–having taken a deep dive into the new AASL Standards this semester–I truly believe that this new “makerspace mindset” is not just a passing fad.

If you don’t believe me, then just take a look at these competencies from the shared foundation, Explore:

  • V.B.1. Learners construct new knowledge by problem solving through cycles of design, implementation, and reflection.
  • V.B.2. Learners construct new knowledge by persisting through self-directed pursuits by tinkering and making.
  • V.C.3. Learners engage with the learning community by collaboratively identifying innovative solutions to a challenge or problem.
  • V.D.1. Learners develop through experience and reflection by iteratively responding to challenges.

While Explore, with its key commitment to “discover and innovate in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection,” encompasses more than just making, it is pretty clear that the language in this shared foundation encourages it. According to Chapter 9 of the new standards book, learners benefit from “opportunities to cultivate creative pursuits by making and experimenting with hands-on activities within the library space” (emphasis mine), and they advance “by tackling challenges that build skill through multiple opportunities to engage in problem-solving and critical-thinking processes.”

I’ll admit right now, I have been slow to get on board with incorporating makerspace in my library and not because I think it’s going to go out of style. Because I serve a student population that is behind in reading (75% of our incoming 6th graders read 2-3 grade levels below where they should be), the focus of my middle school library program is always going to be on reading. But, I also realize that if I do not provide opportunities to make and iterate, my high-poverty students may not be exposed to it elsewhere.

This is why an METC STEAM Summer Institute session on makerspace activities tied to state-award nominated picture books I attended last summer was so appealing to me. The idea of tying the makerspace to literacy seemed like the perfect fit. I blogged about that session here, and I set out this school year to figure out how I could take the idea and make it work for my secondary students.


One of elementary librarian, Carolyn Allen’s terrific ideas that inspired me last summer.

My first thought was to book talk a Truman or Gateway book, read a quick excerpt and then have the students complete a related makerspace activity during their regularly scheduled library visits. Yet, incorporating anything but the simplest, quickest makerspace activities turned out to be hard to manage given the limited time I see secondary students, so I had to get a little more creative and reach out to teaching partners who could collaborate.

As it turns out, our middle school science teachers were looking for enrichment activities for their intervention time, and they were more than willing to have me come in and share about an award book. Then, I could leave, and they took care of the related STEM activity. We were able to incorporate maker activities this way, and it also ended up leading to a broader STEM-Literacy partnership.  For instance, I read an excerpt from Red Queen to 6th grade science students at the start of a unit on blood types, which incorporated inquiry as well as a more traditional lab. The collaboration has me so excited, that I am thinking about reaching out to other departments, like art, social studies and math!

red queen

6th graders learn about real blood types and read about red & silver bloods.

Another idea we have in the works, is putting together some Family STEM-Literacy take-home kits, where we’ll send home two copies of the award book, along with an accompanying nonfiction title, discussion guides and maker activities and materials. We’re writing a grant this month in hopes of funding this idea and our continued partnership!


I really hope we can fund these kits!

For my high schoolers, I decided to focus on Gina Seymour-inspired “makercare” activities, where the projects were tied to community service. I introduced this through my monthly Teen Library Council lunch meetings, and then students could come in during their free time to participate in making  with the added incentive of getting to go on a field trip to deliver the items we made that were meant for outside the school. Here is a link to the Donor’s Choose project I did to fund the supplies for this idea.


An easy “makercare” project you can do in school.


So, while there are a lot of Future Ready Librarians who are trendier than me and a lot farther along when it comes to their library makerspaces, I hope you find a little inspiration here. Plus, I hope you will join in on these collaborative documents (MASL Makers 2017-2018 & MASL Makers 2018-2019) where we are sharing our maker ideas for the MASL award-nominated books (even if you are not from Missouri!).



6+ Digital Alternatives to the Poster Project

Recently on Twitter, this #dokchat discussion touched on one of my pet peeves as a library media specialist….the poster project.Tweets with replies by Shannon Steimel (@ShannonSteimel) - Twitter

Why do I despise the poster project so much that I would wish death upon it? My experience has been that whenever teachers ask their students to “research” a topic (notice the air quotes) and present their findings in a poster, the skills the students utilize have nothing to do with inquiry or information literacy and much more to do with manipulating scissors, glue and markers (which I am pretty sure most students master around early elementary). As Alice Keeler points out this equals a Depth of Knowledge ZERO!

I should mention that I was once a well-intentioned teacher who assigned poster projects, too! So, please don’t take my snarky tone to heart! I really do just want to help.

So, I thought I would offer some digital alternatives to the poster project, AND, perhaps more importantly, some questions to ask yourself about the project before you assign it, (along with some resources to help you answer them).

First of all, ask yourself…

Am I asking students to think critically? Will your project require them to expend some brain power or just time and energy? If DOK is confusing to you, join the club, i.e., check out Alice Keeler’s blog post, #DOKchat – DOK is Hard Let’s Talk About It.

This should lead you to…

What questions will my students answer with this project? Questions are what drive inquiry, so good ones should always be at the heart of any research project. Need guidance? Check out Tony Vincent’s blog post, Crafting Questions that Drive Projects.

Am I asking my students to engage with the primary sources they select? If you are allowing students to simply pull images from a Google image search and plop them into their projects without any further thought, you are missing a prime opportunity Why not challenge them to thoughtful selection of images and other primary sources followed by interpretation and analysis? The Library of Congress has some great info on Using Primary Sources. And, the National Archives Digital Vaults will even let you create your own poster or video with their primary source materials.

And, while we’re on the subject of Google image searches…

Am I ensuring that my students are good digital citizens when it comes to Fair Use and Copyright? I know, I know, we librarians can be such sticklers for these things. If you are wondering what you should know and why you should care, check out Ronnie Burt’s painless Educator’s Guide to Copyright, Fair Use and Creative Commons.

Finally, if you are going to use one of the digital tools below, please also consider…

Am I merely substituting a digital tool for poster board, or am I incorporating the transformative properties of the technology into the scope of my project? If you’re not familiar with the SAMR model, by all means, please familiarize yourself with it: The SAMR Model Explained By Students.

Now, let’s move on to the digital alternatives to the poster project…

(Hey, you there, I see that you just scrolled past my excellent and thought-provoking questions to get to the list of digital tools. I implore you, for the love of meaningful research projects…please scroll back up and consider my questions!!!)

1: Thinglink Create interactive images by adding text, videos, links, other images and more to your photo. Consider using a collage maker, such as Pic-Collage,  first if you want to include multiples images as the main image.

2: Padlet Images, videos, documents, and text can be placed on this virtual wall, making it as versatile as an actual poster board.

3: Google Sites If you are a GAFE school like we are, why not consider having students create a simple webpage or site as a final project. If not, you might consider Weebly for Education.

4: Infogr.am Have your students make their own infographics. Infogr.am will allow education accounts 10 free infographics.

5: Capzles Add video, images, music and documents to this timeline creator.

6: Canva Design graphics like a pro without needing to know Photoshop.

Those with deep pockets and/or big budgets might also consider…

7. Voicethread, 8. Glogster or 9. Smore

And, in response to Simone Strauss,

Tweets with replies by Simone Strauss (@straussFCSteach) - Twitter


here are two bonus ideas for presentation alternatives:

10: Powtoon or 11. Biteslide

There you go! 6+ alternatives to the poster project and its close cousins, the tri-fold board project and the brochure project.

For those of you who are fretting that you will have no lovely posters with which to decorate your classroom walls once you allow your students to choose one of these digital alternatives to the poster project…

Consider having them select their most compelling image, add the driving/essential question, and a QR Code. Print them out, hang them up, and you’ve got…Instant Gallery Walk!