Book Tasting Tweaks, Late Winter 2012

Last fall, I blogged about our book tasting I did with Susan Lester and her 10th Honors World Literature/Composition (Media 21 cohort) students; these texts were a springboard into our unit of inquiry on issues in Africa.   We just finished our later winter book tasting last period, and I did a few modifications from fall that I thought teachers and librarians might like.

Book Tasting Tweak 1

For this book tasting, which is our springboard into a unit of inquiry on war and veterans, I created a book tasting LibGuide.    Although we had hard copies of all the books except for two on the menu, I wanted students to have a portal for our book choices and book review tools.

In the LibGuide, I included widgets for NoveList and NoveList K-8, which we are fortunate to have access to through GALILEO, Georgia’s Virtual Library, so that students could read book reviews for their choices and/or browse suggested “read alikes” or browse additional books by topic if they chose to do so.  I also used the “books from the catalog” feature in LibGuides to create a visual list of books so that students could peek at the covers on our large screen in one of our library commons instructional areas before heading over to the book cart; I love the fact that you can sort your “books from the catalog” by call number with one mouse click!  For the two books that we didn’t have copies of but that we thought students might be interested in reading, I was able to hyperlink to the books in Amazon (although I could have easily pushed them to any other source like LibraryThing reviews or NoveList) so that students could get a preview since “books from the catalog” allows you to add a hyperlink (which is handy when you are creating a list of eBooks from a database like Gale Virtual Reference Library).  Finally, I included a widget for our Destiny OPAC and a LibGuides built-in widget for Google Book search.  This LibGuide page gave students a virtual portal for learning more about a book and reading reviews after browsing the hard copy of the book.

Book Tasting Tweak 2

For this book tasting, I followed the principle of “less is sometimes more” by giving students a blank 3 x 5 index card after we reviewed the LibGuide.  I instructed students to use one side to jot down notes to themselves about the books they were browsing; on the other side, students indicated their top two book choices.

Susan and I collected these at the end of the class, and I used the notecards to quickly and easily compile a roster of students and top choices.  Since we have enough copies of what everyone wanted and enough money left in our budget to purchase the few additional titles we need, I’m able to give every student his/her top choice.

Here were the choices:

  • 2 students chose Code Talker:  A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two
  • 2 students chose Dear America:  Letters Home from Vietnam
  • 1 student chose Faith of My Fathers
  • 3 students chose Fallen Angels
  • 4 students chose Purple Heart
  • 1 student selected House to House (self-selected through browsing/discovery  rather than a selection from the original menu)
  • 1 student selected Sunrise Over Fallujah
  • 1 student selected The Long Road Home:  A Story of War and Family
  • 2 students selected The Things They Carried
  • 3 students chose Soldier Boys
  • 3 students selected What  Was Asked of Us
  • 1 student chose I Am a Soldier, Too:  The Jessica Lynch Story

Next Steps and Reflections

Now we’ll talk to students about how we might group our Fishbowl inquiry groups for March; it looks as though theme, veteran group, or war might be some focal points for group formation.    We’ll also give the groups some options for variations on their approaches to Fishbowl discussions.  Students will use their texts to discover an issue or topic they want to research related to war and/or veterans (which I’ll be blogging more about in a few weeks).  In conclusion, I think we were all happy with the way the book tasting rolled–students had room for choice, discovery, and exploration without any organizational structures that were overly fussy or complicated.  I’m excited to see how the student engage and respond to their texts as we kick off our unit the last week of February!

Students and Skype as Catalysts for Learning: Ms. Salas’s Students Skype and Learn @ The Unquiet Library

We’ve started off 2012 on an energizing and positive note at The Unquiet Library with two Skype interviews of experts related to architectural design.  What is super cool is that both of these Skype sessions were born out of students reaching out to experts about topics they’re curious and passionate about in Ms. Melanie Salas’s Architectural Drawing and Design II course.

Our first interview was Thursday, January 12 with Lisa Roth of Montgomery Roth Architecture & Interior Design, L.L.C.   Meet the brainchild behind this Skype session and her insights on the value of Skype in the classroom:

Other student insights included:

  • learning about how to select a college and qualities to look for in program related to the field of architecture
  • pathways to careers in architecture
  • what kinds of learning experiences to expect in a program of study for architecture
  • the field of interior design and how study in this area might enhance or shape a career as an architect
  • the importance of learning the culture of a geographic area before embarking on a design
  • Ms. Roth’s approach to the process of architectural design
  • details about specific design projects Ms. Roth’s firm has completed (a student favorite)
  • the cost and security of structures have a diverse range depending on the needs of the client
  • the importance of designing an effective sales pitch or sales presentation for a project
  • applications of what has been learned in class to “real world” architecture

Our second interview was with Danny Abshire of Newton Running.   Students got to ask questions about the design process and learned not only about the logistics of shoe design and Abshire’s story of co-founding his business, but they also received sound advice on dealing with the highs and lows of following one’s passions and dreams.  Students were truly impressed and engaged with Abshire’s energy and love for what he does; many commented it was a valuable and memorable learning experience.

Like last week’s Skype session, the catalyst for this conversation was learning was rooted in a student’s desire to connect with an expert.  Duncan shares how his study in Ms. Salas’s class intersected with his Senior Project and his reflections on how today’s learning experiences have impacted him as a student.  His joy and delight are infectious!

I’d like to thank our students, Ms. Salas, and our experts for their time and willingness to engage in a conversation for learning through Skype and our library.   I’m especially happy that students have not only gained new content related knowledge, but that they have also felt the power of interviewing an expert and that the Skype experience has fueled their passion and curiosity for learning!

Guest Post: GAME ON…@your library

It is always a joy to put the spotlight on my colleagues who are doing innovative and original programming and instruction.  I’m honored and pleased to feature this special guest post from my Cherokee County School District colleague Wendy Cope!

When I think about gamers, I think about slack-jawed adolescents, hands glued to controllers, faces lit blue from the television screen. Wasting time. Not reading books. But I also know there was something significant to the culture of gaming that we needed to acknowledge in our fledgling library program.  When my partner Keara Rubin and I brought the idea of celebrating ALA’s National Gaming Day before Knight’s Tale (our advocacy/literacy club) and they got excited, we knew we had hit on something big.  Two of our boys, Jesse and JD, really took ownership of the event, securing the games and gaming systems from teachers and friends (we labeled EVERYTHING including cords).  Especially for this first event, we chose games that were multiplayer and (relatively) non-violent; Mario Krash Kart, Dance Dance Revolution, Madden 12, and Rock Band were HUGE hits. We explicitly said no to Halo and to Modern Warfare. At first, students griped that the event wouldn’t be any good without FPS (first person shooter) games, but when they realized we wanted to make this an inclusive and non-controversial event, they understood.

We shut down the MC for lunches and sold wristbands for admission ($3 ahead of time and $4 at lunch, with a discount for students who wanted to contribute games, systems, or controllers to the event).

Despite two weeks of promotional posters and general announcements followed by a couple of days of explicit announcements, we got a little flak on that day from kids working on projects, but we sent them to our counseling office, which has several computers and welcomes kids during lunch.

We used the 2 SMARTboards in the media center and set up an additional 3 screens/projectors/speakers.  With their parents’ permission, students brought in a plethora of systems:  PS2, PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360. Jesse and JD looked at the games and systems and determined which position in the library would be best for which games.  For instance, Beatles Rock Band needed good speakers AND enough floor space for players and their instruments, so that went to a screen with access to the sound system.  Madden ’12 needed a high resolution screen, so they went to the SMARTboard.  Their knowledge of how to optimize the games’ effectiveness contributed heavily to the positive gaming experience.

For community outreach, we invited a representative from Play N Trade, a local gaming store.  He brought “Warriors of Rock” and tons of guitars so that more kids could play.  He interacted brilliantly with students, giving pointers along with gaming coupons.  Since he was used to dressing up like Mario and being mauled by elementary school students, he was grateful for the chance to work with potential customers who shared his passion.  He even stayed through the tornado watch, talking gaming with the kids huddled in the hall. Good community relations.

One PTSA member came to help, and Knight’s Tale kids stationed themselves at each game system for security and “fairness”, but neither presented an issue.  At each station, the rules of play seemed to emerge organically with little negotiation. We also asked the teachers to come down to play with the kids (and to provide a little supervision), and that perhaps turned out to be the biggest hit.  The kids loved gaming against their teachers and schooling THEM.

In fact, the amount of problem-solving, teaching, and collaboration going on between the intense (slack-jawed) bursts of gaming surprised me. One group in the computer lab even commandeered the whiteboards for brainstorming tips and shortcuts.

All told, we had thirty kids gaming in the library over three lunches.  Since we regularly have at least 50 kids in our library during each of the three lunches, this event could have been viewed as a failure.  I don’t see it that way.  I stayed outside the media center selling wristbands to last minute-takers and to take in the scene from the outside. What I loved was that, even though event wasn’t well-attended, kids were peeking in the windows and saying, “They had MADDEN? Man, I wish I had gone. That was cool.” For some reason, the posters and the two weeks of announcements just didn’t register.  Our student body is not composed of early adopters or innovators, so they’re only beginning to understand that when we launch a program, it’s going to be good. Next time, their response will be even better.

Our version of National Gaming Day provided an opportunity to game at school with new friends and to make a little money with no financial outlay.  The real prize?  It cemented us as a cool place to be.

To view an Animoto video with highlights of the event, please visit this link.

Wendy Cope is one of the librarians at River Ridge High School in Cherokee County, Georgia.  Her email address is Twitter: @rrhslibrary

Video: The Librarian as a Catalyst and Learning Specialist in K12

English teacher Lisa Kennedy and librarian Buffy Hamilton discuss partnerships for learning between the librarian and classroom teacher; they also share how this partnership between librarian and teacher influences Lisa’s evolution as a teacher and her instructional design and in turn, Buffy’s practice as a librarian.


Harada, V. H., & Zmuda, A. (2008, April). Reframing the library media specialist as a learning specialist. School Library Monthly, 24(8). Retrieved from‌articles/‌Zmuda&Harada2008v24nn8p42.html

Scenes from the Unquiet Library: Four Classes Researching, Learning, and Collaborating

I’m always amazed by how beautifully classes co-exist in our learning space when we max out with four classes.  I thought it would be fun this morning to capture a quick snapshot of what learning looks like at The Unquiet Library—moments like this are the happiest for me here in the library and validate the vision of a learning-centered library.