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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Technology in Makerspaces Not Necessary

On 05, Nov 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

So things are chugging along in my after school makerspace. There’s always a lot of banging and glueing and pandemonium. There is never enough duct tape. Or wood scraps. Or wheels. I am constantly reminding them to stop wasting water or stop stabbing each other with their creations. Every time I say something I thought I would never say. We are working on leaving the room as we found it (so I don’t have to spend a ton of time after they leave cleaning and sorting), but other than that it’s great.

I read a blog post today, though, that talked about a librarian hesitant to jump into makerspaces. She got some good inspiration and is off looking for more inspiration and ideas. I want to share how I recently worked a makerspace into my library and library curriculum in case any one out there is wondering about one way to approach this concept and I will in my next post, but what I want to address today is something this librarian mentioned that had kept her from really looking into them: a malaise around or fear of needing lots of technology and also not knowing how to teach coding. I want to get this out there before I even start talking about what I did. Technology is not essential or necessary to have a makerspace. The only technology I currently have in my makerspace is broken down computers and appliances for the kids to harvest for parts or explore the innards of.

The other important thing to know and understand is that makerspaces are about letting the kids make discoveries and learn on their own. You do not need to provide the content, only the space and supplies. You can certainly answer questions and point them in the right direction, but I think the most important part of makerspaces is how they are student inquiry driven. It’s a place for teachers and parents to step back and let their kids go.

Kids will ask you for what to do next and what to do, but if you refuse to tell them they eventually come to rely on themselves. My line is “That’s not my job, that’s yours. Take a look around and see what you can use.” This looking to adults for what to do and fear of making mistakes is something we have taught them in traditional schooling and it takes some unlearning, but I can tell you from experience all kids come along and start figuring things out for themselves. They stop needing you except to remind them that the glue is in the same place it’s been in for a year.

I do occasionally put out some set activities for the kids, but they never do them (except the slime kitchen which they LOVE with a fiery passion). They have their own ideas that need expression and they go for it. It’s amazing to see what they can create with some cardboard and tape. It’s amazing to see the stories they create to go with their inventions. And it’s most amazing as an adult to realize they don’t care if their broken computer with a speaker glued on top that they call a state-of-the-art sound system doesn’t actually work. It does in their mind and in the narrative they have created. (This really happened last week.)

None of this is limited to the preschool set either. I have fifth graders who are just as into cardboard and tape and imagination as my second graders. And there’s a makerspace elective in the middle school that’s come to this point too. The teacher used to give them a challenge or task every time they came to class, but one day he gave them a loose challenge that involved cardboard boxes and their enthusiasm and creativity EXPLODED that day. He was so amazed he’s stepped back a lot and simplified even more and gives them a lot more freedom. And those kids are all the way up into eighth grade.

So sure, makerspaces are nifty if they have technology in them, but only if it allows kids to get creative and helps them bring their ideas into being. It’s by no means necessary. And please, please, please do not make it seem like you are the one giving them the ideas or that you have all the answers. They get plenty of that everywhere else in their lives. Give the kids the tools, space,  and knowledge to figure things out themselves and find their own creativity, intelligence, and strength.

As a side note, I do teach the kids how to use our tools (drills, saws, hot glue guns) if they don’t already know. I will help them do things like cut large pieces of wood or whatever that it would be too time consuming, physically taxing, or developmentally inappropriate for them to do. I also do some front loading with new students where I step back gradually from helping them find what they want to do in the space and think about how to solve problems. I am, though, always intentionally vague with ideas I give them. It’s a process and some kids come along faster than others, but they all get to a point where they see me as an interference.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Monthly Author: Pam Munoz Ryan

On 20, Sep 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’ve been aware of Pam Munoz Ryan for years now, but for whatever reason I haven’t read anything by her. I was inspired to add her to the list when I saw her speak nearly a year ago at the ALSC Institute. I hadn’t realized she was from California which was neat to me. I was also really impressed with all the things she had to say about the importance of diversity in children’s literature.

Here’s her website where she has a lists of all the books she’s written. She is a prolific author! For any teachers out there, she’s got readers theatre scripts for four of her books.

Schedule for the week:

Monday: How Do You Raise a Raisin

Tuesday: Raising Freedom

Thursday: Mice and Beans

Friday: Hello Ocean

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Diversity Baseline Survey Petition

On 09, Sep 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I signed the petition a few days ago encouraging publishers of all sizes and stripes to fill out a baseline survey that would create transparency in the publishing world around who is in that world. This is tied in with #wndb in that the publishing industry is a gatekeeper and if there isn’t diversity and authenticity in that diversity there it’s going to be very hard for there to be diversity in what’s published.  Here’s the link to learn more and sign for yourself.



In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Diverse Booktalks

On 01, Sep 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

So this month I start my new job as part-time lower school librarian. I will be in one day a week working with the second and third grade classes. I spent the summer working on lesson plans and library is going to look fairly different than it has in the past.

Our very first week, instead of starting off reading a chapter book aloud to them (that won’t come in until November when schedules get crazy between Thanksgiving and Christmas) I am going to do booktalks with them. To that end I have been reading like a madwoman. (Thankfully it’s short chapter books and a lot of picture books so I’m able to plow through my piles quickly.) However, I am really trying to highlight diverse titles in our collection and that’s been more difficult and I wanted to share some of my frustrations.

First off I should say our collection does pretty well on having diversity represented. We have a lot of highly recommended books and it appears that the previous librarians (there have been two prior to myself and the librarian I am job sharing with over the course of the school’s 50 years) tried hard to be sure the collection was diverse. Hooray for that! But once you really start turning a critical eye to specific books (I’m looking at you Indian in the Cupboard and Little House series) and to sections of the collection things start to fall apart.

There are a lot of books that have little things in them that aren’t great. Like non-native authors. Is that always a bad thing? Can non-whatever (native, African, African-American, etc.) authors sensitively write books for children about other cultures? Sure, but they don’t always. Also, that means they’ve turned someone else’s culture into a profit for themselves. Is that okay? Should we be supporting that? Weeding this stuff out is not an issue in terms of cleaning the shelves. They’re near bursting anyways. But that will also be a huge undertaking and where do I start? Fiction where these issues are more subtle? Non-fiction where some of the most egregious examples are (those will be the first to go) and are most heavily used in research? Small areas that are most heavily used?

I wonder with many of these questionable titles, do you remove them from the collection? Obviously I could, but is that censorship? I really don’t know. With Little House, can I send a note home to the parents with a heads up and an encouragement to talk to their child about the books? Or do they just go? A lot of teachers still recommend the kids read them. Do they know about the issues with the books? Am I going to end up in an all-out brawl over this? Do I care?

In going through the chapter book section I noticed it skews very white (no surprise, I’m discovering it’s hard to find good chapter books with POCs) and very female. Also a lot older, like mid90s. Since this section is squarely in my kids’ range I think I’ll focus here, but there are so many places!

I also wonder so I somehow mark these books in our OPAC so it’s easier for people (librarians included) to find them based on wanting to read about another culture/race/gender? Or is that making it too much about, say, race and not making it something that’s naturally there like it is in the real world?

The other thing I found frustrating is that while we have diversity, so much of it is in a historical context. Meaning so many of the African-American or Native-American books or Asian books are about slavery, colonialism, or coolies. By and large incidental ethnicity or disability are not there and we need a lot more books where that stuff isn’t what the story is about. We need books where there are mysteries and friendship stories, etc. where the kids just happen to be not white or are disabled. This is probably the easiest problem to tackle. I just have to be sure that the books we are buying have incidental diversity. We don’t need to get rid of any of the books that feature diversity (unless they suck), but we need to be sure that we’re buying stuff with diversity.

Ultimately I think this is something I’m going to have to spend the year researching, reflecting on, thinking about, and talking to other librarians, particularly the one I work with. There are just a lot of unanswered questions at this point, which drives me nuts. I want to make a difference. This is important. I want to be doing something about them, but it’s going to take time and I’m going to make mistakes. If anyone has suggestions I am all ears.

Stand out titles from my second and third grade lists:

  • Gloria’s Way by Ann Cameron: Supportive parents, African-American kids; no mention of their race, none, it’s all incidental; excellent friendship stories
  • Battle Bugs: The Lizard War by Jack Patton: no great literature, but no mention of the main character’s race is made, yet he’s drawn as African American; high interest subject and exciting story
  • Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave written by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier: gorgeous illustrations; not your typical slave narrative, at least
  • Solo Girl by Andrea Pinkney Davis, pictures by Nneka Bennett: I just really liked this story about trying new things and practice and attitude go a long way to helping you master a new skill; this book is part of some sort of leveled series which feature all kinds of well written books in all sorts of genres for that second and third grade level
  • The Skirt by Gary Soto: another story I loved, plus it’s written by Gary Soto; Soto is spot on with kids at the third grade age- the girls are so typical which makes the story that much better and funnier




In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes from the Makerspace: MakerCamp

On 23, Jul 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I just got done teaching a week of Makerspace Camp and I am exhausted! I had 13 kids and three hours each day. Thankfully I had the classroom all to myself, unlike during the school year, so I was able to leave the bins of supplies out on the counters and floor. That made things So. Much. Easier. Clean up took about 10 minutes and consisted mostly of sweeping. I thought I would take a few minutes to share what we did, my thoughts on how it went in case anyone out there wants to try this out, and document it for myself.

Because I had the kids for three hours I decided it was necessary to split up our time and give them a set activity for part of the day. I don’t usually like to tell the kids what to make and I was pretty lax about requiring them to work on the project. A few kids asked to work on something else and so long as they had at least tried the activity I let them. My purpose was to expose them to some materials and ideas and spark their imaginations. The first 15 minutes was a welcome and a introduction to what we would be doing. Then the first hour was the set project. We would break for a 15 minute snack and then have free making for the last hour and a half (which was the length of my class during the year and a good amount of time to get going on a project of their choosing).

Two things that were really interesting to see, first that kids who had not been in the Makerspace during the school year figured out what to do pretty quickly. I got maybe one or two requests for something to do. Amazing! Second, with the exception of two boys who came during the year and always made weapons replicas, the projects the kids made were completely different from what the kids made last year.

I also saw group dynamics in action. My two boys who always make weapons were there, but the third boy from their group was not and they were A LOT calmer and on task. It isn’t the other boy per se, just the addition of the third person in the group that pulls them off task more. On the last day one of the boys was not there, the one who is really interested in WWII and weapons from that era, and the other boy chose not to make weapons and did several other interesting projects. I need to find a way to encourage him to try his own ideas out and explore his own interests and not feel like he has to do exactly what his friend is doing.

Here was the schedule of projects and few notes:

Monday: Rube Goldberg Machines. I put out marble runs, cars, dominoes, blocks, marbles, and gave them access to our recycled materials. This is always a popular activity and this time resulted in some carnival games. We watched the Okay Go video of This Too Shall Pass.

Tuesday: Sculptures. I put out tin foil, marshmallows and toothpicks, and newspaper to be rolled into tubes. This one was hard for them and only held their interest for 45 minutes or so.

Wednesday: Stop motion videos. I used the app Stop Motion Studio loaded onto iPads. I put out clay, toys, and gave them access to the recycled materials. We also watched a ton of videos for inspiration. This took a few of them a little time to figure out, but we got some incredible videos considering the limitations of the materials and the fact that all these kids are 10 or under. A few of them choose to keep making the videos for the rest of the week.

Thursday: Movie day. We watched Big Hero 6, a movie all about makers and popped popcorn. I also put out a lot of bits and bobs, including tons of computer parts and told them they could make robots if they wanted. I have never seen kids so entranced by a movie.

Friday: Slime Kitchen. I’ve blogged a tiny bit about it here. It was messy and glorious. Surprisingly even my fifth graders were totally into this.



In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Quick Thoughts on ALA Annual, Diversity, and Collection Development

On 01, Jul 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

So I just got back from ALA Annual in San Francisco. I’ve been two other times, but this is the first time I’ve been and had a real purpose. I wanted to visit sessions that might be pertinent to my library and I wanted to get posters and bookmarks and things to give away to the kids this year as little prizes. I also ended up picking up a bunch of ARCs to read and give to the kids.

This being the first time I’ve really gone around looking for ARCs and books to buy I wasn’t clear on how exactly the exhibits worked, but now I feel like a I have a handle on it. And now I see what people mean by how white all the books are and what they mean when they say to ask publishers for their diverse books. I get it now.

I wish I had done that this year. I wish I had been quicker on the uptake when it came to figuring out how the publishers give out ARCs. But we plan on going to Orlando next year and I will be way more selective about picking up diverse books then. I am glad though, because the books I bought and had signed (for our home collection and for our library collection) were almost all diverse (the exceptions being a hamster, a Scottish folktale because we are Scottish, and a writing prompt picture book).

My plan this year is to be buying primarily diverse books for the library. There are a few series and a few titles we need to replace that aren’t, but by and large my collection development selections will feature diversity. We have a very strong core collection and don’t need the latest and greatest shiny new books. Sure, we need a few (when the kids ask for them or if they are actually worthwhile), but I want the latest and greatest shiny diverse books to make our collection great.

As a side note, I am teaching two summer school classes over the next two weeks (Makerspace and sewing) so I won’t be posting, but I will post one or two things in the last weeks of July.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Monthly Author: Jason Reynolds

On 21, Jun 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

This month I read three books by Jason Reynolds. I chose him because he’s a newer author. I also tried to read his When I Was Greatest last fall when I was reading a ton of diverse books, but just didn’t get around to it. I had it out from the library, but other books got picked up instead and I finally returned it. I kept it on my radar, though, and when his newest novel came out, The Boy in the Black Suit I decided he would make a good monthly author. His books are amazing and I’m really glad I read them.

Schedule for the week:

Tuesday: The Boy in the Black Suit

Wednesday: When I Was Greatest

Thursday: My Name is Jason. Mine Too.

Links of Interest:

  • i am jason reynolds seems to be a bit of an extension of the poetry from My Name Is Jason. Mine Too. I don’t see any art from his friend Jason, but the poetry is excellent.
  • Here’s his AWESOME website, Jason Writes Books. Because Jason Reynolds is AWESOME. There’s a blog and FAQs and a few other fun and interesting things. Just check it out.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Summer Reading Update

On 04, Jun 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Although it wasn’t officially anything I had to do, the librarian I’ll be working with this fall asked me about the summer reading. She hated the format of the current lists (lists she didn’t put together) and wanted to work with them. I volunteered to take a look at them and see what I could do. I ended up completely revamping them. The project was a lot of fun and since I had the time and expertise, the librarian was more than happy to let me run with it.

I completely agreed with her. The lists were a mess. They were really long and hard to read (OMG comic sans!). There were quite a few way-out-of-print titles (things that didn’t even come up on Amazon) and a handful of typos per each grade level. It was definitely time to redo them. The first thing I did was simply read through the lists and figure out problems with them that we could fix. None of them were terrible lists, but these were the things I decided to focus on:

  • length (way too long)
  • old (many titles were quite old)
  • very, very white
  • not much poetry
  • virtually no nonfiction

I don’t know exactly why, but I decided the new lists should have three sections: suggested authors/illustrators, suggested series, and suggested titles. I went through and highlighted all the titles I wanted to keep (only about 3-5 per list), any series that were worth keeping on the list, and any authors or illustrators worth keeping. There were books recommended by very prolific authors (Jan Brett, Eric Carle, etc.) and there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why the specific title listed was chosen. These authors went into the suggested author/illustrator list. A family could read any book by them and it will be good.

I made a point to be sure there were authors and illustrators of color as well as stories featuring characters of color in them or characters with disabilities (although that one was a lot harder). I also tried to get some books with different family structures on the list (The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, for example). The school has a pretty diverse population and I think we need to reflect that in the reading suggestions we make.

If there were series on the list I often put them into the new suggested series section, although I dumped a fair number of older ones. Especially the Little House on the Prairie series. Yikes. I replaced that with Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series.

The new lists of suggested titles range from about 20-25 titles. Much more manageable than the 50 or so of the old lists. I should note, none of this is required reading so long lists didn’t seem necessary. I also made a point to put in a few poetry books and quite a few nonfiction books. Nonfiction books also ended up in the suggested series section as there are quite a few good series out there for elementary school ages (Scientists in the Field, for example).

As far as older titles, my feeling is that parents have heard of or even read many of them. Classic children’s literature is easy to find at the library and in the book store. These lists were an opportunity for us to feature things parents might not come across on their own. We could highlight more diversity, new material, and some of our favorites. I also made a point to include books that would tie in with themes and topics I know each grade level studies (birds for first grade, insects in second, biographies in third, California history in fourth).

We did one final thing. The letters that accompanied the reading lists kind of had links to ALA award lists and a note to look at the California Young Reader Medal website for more suggestions. A year or two ago I got really frustrated with the ALA website. It’s slow to load and it’s hard to navigate when you’re trying to look at the award lists. They are on two different division pages (ALSC and YALSA) and are about a hundred clicks deep within those. The formatting is all over the map. Some lists have tons of information (most of it totally unnecessary) from ISBNs to publication dates to titles while others have next to nothing. And there is no consistency. From a user’s standpoint, they’re awful. I wanted lists of the awards so I could refer to them and read through them so I created PDFs of all the major awards. The lists are clean, they don’t contain too much or too little information (mostly title, author, illustrator, and year of the award) with a blurb about what the award is for at the top. The formatting is consistent across all of them and they look uniform and clean.

Now, I can’t imagine sending a parent to look for award-winning titles on the ALA website pages. They would give up. So we decided to post the PDFs of the award lists that I created on our summer reading page for parents to download. Each summer reading letter has a short list of the grade appropriate award lists parents can download/consult. A lot of the books from the old summer reading lists are award winners and this not only provides another place for parents to find reading suggestions, but gives them a way to find many of those oldies, but goodies.

We’re still working on the lists, but by and large they are done. Next week I’ll be posting some reviews of some of the books I previewed for the lists. They’re lumped into two large posts otherwise I’d have a full month’s worth of content. Maybe two and I didn’t want to do that. So stay tuned.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Monthly Author: Tim Tingle

On 24, May 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I didn’t know much about Tim Tingle except that his books were getting a lot of recognition for being both good and for being written by a native author. Tingle is an Oklahoma Choctaw and he writes about the history of his people. According to his bio he is a storyteller (I suspect much like Joseph Bruchac is).

Sometime last year I read one of Tingle’s newer books Danny Blackgoat: Navajo Prisoner and I was a little confused. Turns out it’s a hi-low book. A book with a high interest story and low reading level. The story wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t super impressed. My GoodReads review wasn’t especially complimentary, but having read some more of Tingle’s work and realizing the book is a hi-low I clearly missed the point of the book. The fist book I picked up to review this week was How I Became a Ghost which also read a lot like a hi-low and again I was a little hesitant to keep going. Were all his books like this?

My next two books totally changed my opinion of his writing and storytelling. Tingle can really write! And he manages to write for a variety of audiences.

Schedule for the week:

Tuesday: How I Became a Ghost

Wednesday: Crossing Bok Chitto

Thursday: House of Purple Cedar

Check out Tim Tingle’s website here. It has a bio, a list of his books and more information.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Hanger Catapult

On 14, May 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Just three more classes this school year for the Makerspace. While I intend to do some reflecting once it’s over. I also will share my planning for the Makerspace summer camp.

This week, though, I was just quickly going to share a popular project that I set up for the kids a few weeks ago. It is a wire hanger catapult. It requires only a few supplies and the kids got really into it. They started to tweak the design so they could launch heavier things and so they could aim better.

Here are the instructions for making the catapult. I came across the idea on Pinterest and is on the blog A Little Pinch of Perfect.

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