Tools of the Trade: My Essentials for Teaching, Learning, Collaborating, and Sharing

I rarely write posts about tech tools in recent years, but I thought I would briefly share some of my “go to” resources that have become an integral part of my work since coming to Norcross High in August of 2013.  These apps and devices are essential to the work I’m doing related to teaching and learning, especially for capturing student work whether it is for archival purposes, assessment, collaborative work between classes, or to merely document learning activities and experiences in our work with teachers and students.  They also help me collect qualitative data, celebrate all aspects of student learning, and interact with both students and teachers.  I’ll also share our essential non-technology oriented tools that we can’t live without here in the NHS Library Learning Studio. These tools and mediums are also helping me document the ways we and our students are using writing and composing multiple kinds of “texts” for thinking, processing, and creating in the library.  

Scanner Pro App ($2.99)

I’m excited to have such a robust app, especially that runs on my older iPhone 4s.   Originally, I bought the Scanner Pro app a little over a year ago because our library copy machine was broken and I needed a fast way to capture and print student submitted book passages for the very first write-around we did with Darrell  Cicchetti in December 2013.   This app does surprisingly high quality resolution scans of any kind of document; I love that I can capture these scans as image files or as PDF files.  You can scan and edit multiple pages into one master document in color, black and white, or both; these features are  wonderful when you are needing to capture collections of student work by class.

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You can also edit files at any time and make adjustments such as rotating the scan to a portrait or landscape orientation very easily.

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You can also import photos quickly from any of your camera rolls on your iPhone:

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I initially was uploading the files to my Evernote account, but I quickly changed to sharing my scanned work to Google Drive.  The learning curve is gentle, and my scanned files always upload to my Google Drive account quickly. Once they are in Google Drive, I can download the files to my laptop (and then upload to my blog or a LibGuide) or share the files publicly using the share feature in Google Drive or upload quickly to my school SlideShare account as needed.


You can name your files when uploading so that you can identify your files easily as well.

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typing title and uploading to Google Drive

I have come to rely heavily on this tool as we have been collecting more student samples of work and doing more work with learning artifacts from written conversation strategies (see my blog for many previous posts on this topic). On a personal note, this app was invaluable last fall when I was handling real estate business for my father after my mother passed away—I used it frequently to capture PDFs of documents for Dad’s new home loan and loved not being tethered to a traditional scanner.  Whether I’m using it for professional or personal reasons, ScannerPro allows me to capture scans in a nimble and seamless way.


Vine is another wonderful app I’ve been using with increasing regularity during the last year.  Like many of you, I use it to capture quick snapshots of daily life in the library and of different learning activities and processes; it’s easy to share the videos to your social media streams and to embed into a blog or LibGuide page.   It is simple to use and again, it works seamlessly on my older iPhone.

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I also love connecting with other librarians on Vine and seeing their creative uses of this app!

Nikon Coolpix S6500


This is my personal camera that I bought on clearance last summer.  It features wifi connectivity and some fun built-in photo editing tools (see below):


While I primarily use this camera to get higher resolution photos of activities and life in the library, I have also discovered it is great for videoing interviews with teachers and students as it captures high quality recordings that I can then upload to YouTube and then edit in YouTube.

My iPhone


My iPhone is nearly always in my hand here at work.  Whether I’m Tweeting with a class (see hashtag #rustyq or see this post), capturing student work with Vine or Scanner Pro, taking photographs, texting with a teacher to conference quickly or touch base about an activity we’re doing together, or accessing documents via Google Drive, my iPhone is an essential piece of technology I use to document what learning looks like in the library.

Essential Non-Tech Tools

non-tech tools

If you’ve been reading my blog over the last year, you know that butcher paper, index cards, assorted sizes of post-it notes, markers, Sharpies, and dry-erase boards have increasingly become robust mediums for thinking, composing, sharing, and learning with our students here in the NHS Library Learning Studio.  These artifacts are the springboard for the rich work Jennifer Lund and I have been doing with students and teachers.  I am continually awed and inspired by the ways that these “unplugged” modes for learning generate critical thinking and rich conversations (written and verbal) with our students.

Your Turn

What are your essential go to tools you are using as part of your professional work with patrons or students, particularly ones that might not have been part of your daily work just a few years ago?



Advances in Citation Management Technologies: How Do They Shape Inquiry and Literacies?

Two years ago, I adopted EasyBib as my primary citation subscription service for a multitude of reasons, but the driving factor was to spend less time on the mechanics of citation and more time helping students and teachers dwell in research projects from an inquiry oriented stance.  Although we had always had high database usage statistics, that did not always translate into those sources finding their way into student projects and papers to the extent we would expect given our high number of hits; we knew from observation in the past that the primary reason was the amount of time and struggle it took students to create entries using the database wizard with another citation tool.  While we very much liked the original citation tool we had been using, our students were not coming with enough prior knowledge or usage for it to be the best fit for them as learners.    Within the first year of adoption, we noticed some significant changes:

1.  Students were not only citing more database sources in their bibliographies, but they were also incorporating the database content more into the body of their paper as paraphrased and directly quoted material.

2.  Because less instructional and working time was spent on citation mechanics with EasyBib, students were spending more times reading their articles critically and having opportunities to reflect on the content individually and with their peers in small groups.

3.  Teachers were more willing to devote longer chunks of  time and take more of an inquiry stance on research projects since they knew the citation piece of the learning experience would be more seamless and would not take as much time for students to complete.  Being able to invest more time in designing  inquiry driven projects using Stripling’s model of inquiry and helping teachers move along that continuum was exciting and energizing; for some teachers, it was also a pathway to pushing back against the pressures of testing.

At the time of our adoption in midwinter, we thought we had jumped light years ahead by being able to download .ris files to then import into EasyBib.  I have vivid memories of students AND teachers clapping when I showed them this fast new method that  felt like a revolution in citation.   That fall, we saw a glimpse of the next wave of citation innovation when we trialed Sage databases and saw one-click integration of direct export for the first time with EasyBib.  Not that it was terrible to download the .ris file with the publication data and then upload it to EasyBib, but to see that citation could be done so seamlessly in one click was a tantalizing possibility to imagine for other databases.

In August 2013, my colleague Jennifer Lund and I were overjoyed when we learned that Gale Virtual Reference Library and Gale Literature Resource Center had been re-configured to offer the ease of one-click citation export and integration with EasyBib. That feature was then enhanced to be even a little cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing in December.  Our only disappointment was that the feature was not yet integrated into our Gale “In Context” databases.  Because we are fortunate to have access to quite a few of these databases in that particular series, we often felt frustrated trying to explain to our students why the one-click integration was available in some Gale databases but not in others.    For young teens who did not have the same schema we did as experienced researchers, this discrepancy was sometimes difficult for them to grasp even though we had created tutorial videos to reinforce the “how to” steps we showed in person.  Worse, this feature was not only missing from the EBSCO databases that we were using as part of our research guides, but the direct export feature failed to deliver the file with the .ris extension essential for EasyBib to read the data file, so students also had to remember to rename the file and add the .ris extension.   For fledgling researchers, these differences and the appropriate steps for exporting citations from one database to another, even those under the same publisher, were sometimes challenging to remember.

student-resource-center-easybibexport-march14As of this week, the beautiful one click citation feature is now available in all the Gale In Context databases.   I literally felt like dancing around the library when I discovered the platforms had been migrated and sooner than I anticipated!  Some of our students came in this morning and said, “Ms. Hamilton, did you know Student Resources in Context now has that one click choice?!”  Jennifer and I were beaming as we discussed the ways this small but important change might help us in our larger efforts to reframe, disrupt,  and transform research experiences here at NHS as acts of inquiry across the curriculum.  If you are in a school that might be facing challenges of a large student body and faculty with a premium on spaces and time for research both within the library and the school building at large as well as curricular and testing mandates, a technology that is seemingly so simple can be a catalyst in how you budget your time for research instruction.   Now that we will have consistency in citation export within our  suite of Gale databases, we anticipate less confusion with this piece of research and more student confidence in using both the databases as well as EasyBib.  Now that we will be spending less time explaining why there are differences in the steps for exporting the citations, we are excited that hopefully more time will be spent incorporating learning experiences that will give students time to engage in deeper inquiry  and to think more deliberately about their research and composing (in whatever format the final product takes).  Of course, we hope that EBSCO will transform their direct export feature soon to be consistent with the Gale experience our students now have.

bibcardWhen we think about the catalysts for richer learning experiences that can shift perceptions about research as a one shot activity to something that is a natural part of an inquiry-driven culture of learning, we know that school culture, collaborative partnerships and strategies, physical space and the design drivers that inform those spaces, testing and curricular mandates, and pedagogical shifts are all important points of access.  As we try to help our students acquire the academic capital and citizenship skills they need as learners who attribute and share information in appropriate and ethical ways, I wonder how shifts in citation technology will impact learners and research experiences in ways we don’t yet foresee. Think about how approaches to citation have changed in your own lifetime (some of us more than others) due to the technologies available for both citing and accessing digitized information sources.  I honestly don’t remember much about crafting bibliographies as a newbie researcher in my junior year although I have vivid memories of painstakingly crafting footnotes, a tedious task.  In my senior year of high school as well as my undergraduate years, I relied heavily on the MLA handbook and resources provided by teachers/professors.   When I began teaching in 1992, my students used index cards and a MLA handbook to cite sources cite sources.  By the time I was a technology specialist in my district’s Technology Services department in 1999 , a free version of NoodleTools had arrived on the scene, and I was tinkering around with that before moving to a paid version purchased by my district.   As a graduate student between 2001-2005, I relied heavily on my NoodleTools subscription to help me format my citations for scholarly research; at the same time, I began incorporating NoodleTools into my instruction at Cherokee High first as an English teacher and then as one of the school’s librarians.   I marvel when I think about the changes in citation technology (or lack of) and how it impacted my work as a teacher and researcher over twenty years.

I can’t help but wonder what the implications are for learners (K12, undergraduate, and even graduate) who do AND who don’t have access to these technologies for research and learning.  How does access or lack thereof impact the learner experience and students’ information literacy skills? How do these changes impact the ways people compose research-based writing and literacy practices as readers of informational texts in a variety of mediums and formats?  How might less emphasis on the mechanics of citation change people’s perceptions and connotations of “research”? How do these technologies and access or lack of access to them function as sponsors of literacy?  These are questions I’ll be pondering as I continue to think about the ways libraries function as sponsors of literacy in their communities and learning ecosystems.

TEDxNYED: Examining the Role of New Media and Technology in Shaping the Future of Education

TEDxNYED: Independently organized TED event via kwout

Today is the day of TEDxNYED; if you miss the livestream of the outstanding lineup of speakers, be of good cheer:  all video will be available on the TEDxNYED website and their YouTube Channel.

What is TEDxNYED?

TEDxNYED, an all-day conference examining the role of new media and technology in shaping the future of education, will take place in New York City on Saturday, March 6, 2010 and will be webcast live here at, allowing viewers around the world to join and engage in these ideas worth spreading.

TEDxNYED is operating under license from TED, organizers of the immensely popular TED Conference, an annual event where some of the world’s leading thinkers and doers are invited to share what they are most passionate about. In the spirit of “ideas worth spreading,” TED has created TEDx, a program of local, organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

TEDxNYED is independently organized by New York educators. At TEDxNYED, TED Talk videos and live speakers will combine to spark deep discussion and connections. TEDxNYED presenters have been invited to share their insights and inspire conversations about the future of education. Attendees of the conference will participate via networking sessions where they will educate one another and, in the spirit of TED, help spread these ideas.

TEDxNYED is an all-day event designed to bring leading educators, innovators, and idealists together to share their vision of education. This event will provide a platform for administrators, teachers, and those passionate about education to connect, learn from these extraordinary speakers, and spread their ideas on how new media and technology are shaping the future of education. There will be live speakers, two recorded TED Talks, and a number of networking sessions both during and after the event

The lineup of speakers features some of the most innovative and forward-thinking minds in a broad range of fields that are impacting current thought in education as well as librarianship!  Henry Jenkins, Michael Wesch, Andy Carvin, Chris Lehmann, and Lawrence Lessig are just a few of the stellar speakers.

Here are a few helpful links:


What’s On the Horizon for 2010? Peer Into the Future with the Horizon Report 2010 Preview

“Now, bring me that horizon.”

Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Carribean

The New Media Consortium recently released the Short List of Horizon Topics for 2010 and the Horizon Report 2010 Preview.  These documents, which you can view by visiting the Horizon Report Wiki, are the result of the rounds of discussions and voting by the Advisory Board members.  The final report will be officially released on January 20, 2010.

The report preview organizes topics by “time to adoption” and  includes a description of the topic; the relevance for teaching, learning, and creative expression; examples of how the topic is being applied, and suggestions for further reading.  In addition, the preview version of the report includes a section called “Critical Challenges” as well as a section for “Key Trends.”

Consider the six final topics:

Where are we as K12 libraries in preparing to utilize these technologies, particularly that of mobile computing and open source applications?  How can we as school librarians help lead the way for the integration of these tools not only into our libraries but also in our school classrooms?   What are K12 vendors doing to help school libraries prepare to adopt and integrate these technologies effectively?

I also find the “Critical Challenges” particularly interesting and encourage you to read the details of each challenge.

  • The role of the academy—and the way we prepare students for their future lives—is changing.
  • New scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching continue to emerge but appropriate metrics for evaluating them increasingly lag behind or fail to appear.
  • Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key 21st century skill, but there is a widening training gap for faculty and teachers.
  • Institutions increasingly focus more narrowly on key goals, as a result of shrinking budgets in the present economic climate.

These challenges leave me with many questions:

  • Will it be school librarians who lead the resistance and coup d’etat, against the test driven school culture that is diametric to 21st century learning that values inquiry, creative expression, and collaboration?
  • Are we teaching our students and teachers about new forms of scholarship?  How do we redefine authority and find new ways to evaluate and assess authority?
  • How do we help posit new literacies (media, digital, transliteracy) as mainstream literacies for students and for teachers?
  • How do we as school librarians turn budget crises into innovation?
  • How do we tap into emerging technologies to create even more effective programs in the face of financially challenged circumstances?

What might happen if we as school librarians formed inquiry circles with public librarians, academic librarians, teachers, technology personnel, administrators, students, parents, and vendors to explore these questions, challenges, and trends?  How could we work together to find inventive and meaningful ways to harness the powers of these technologies?  What might learning look in both K12 and higher education if we engaged in inquiry and problem solving together?

Although these documents represent the “preview” and not the final draft of the report, please read the draft forms and put these ideas on your radar if they aren’t there already.  What is your response to the report preview?  How do you see K12 libraries meeting the challenges outlined in the draft?  How do you see the key trends impacting the 21st century school library and our practices?  I have cross-posted this entry on the AASL blog; please share your responses there as well as here.

Buffy Hamilton, Ed.S.
School Library Media Specialist
Creekview High School, Canton, Georgia