Thing 14: Book Reviews

I have a lifetime membership to LibraryThing but haven’t used it since I started my job over four years ago. I liked that you could keep a running list of books owned and/or read. One of my favorites parts of the website was receiving ARC of books and posting reviews. The problem was that once I started my job, I had very little time to read and fell behind in my reviews. Eventually I stopped requesting ARCs and haven’t gone back to the website.

I also have an account on Goodreads but don’t really use it. I have added books, rated the books I’ve read, and added books I’d like to read. But that is about it. On the Internet, I am much more of a lurker than an active participant. As much as I’ve tried to change this and grow, it is something I have to actively force myself to do whether I like it or not.

One avenue for book reviews that I would like to explore with my students is adding student reviews to our OPAC. My district uses Opals and there is a way for students to add their own reviews. Earlier in the year, I had students write short book reviews using a Google Form from my website. But I haven’t done anything with the reviews partially due to the fact that many of them are poorly written. In order to have students post reviews to the OPAC directly, I would have to moderate for spelling or have students hand write them before they can type them into the program. I do want the student reviews in the OPAC because I want students to start taking ownership of the library and I think this is a great way to start. I think tomorrow I will pull out those reviews and find the ones that don’t require a lot of editing and put them up on the OPAC. Next time, I’ll figure out how to have the students do this right on the OPAC.


eBooks and their Readers

As a fan of, I gave my husband and son their own Kindles for Christmas the year it was first released. Anymore, they very rarely read a book that isn’t on their Kindle. My husband bought me my own Kindle for Valentine’s Day one year but as a librarian, I really like holding a book in my hands. I never really used my Kindle except when travelling but that all changed when I broke my arm over a year ago and had a difficult time holding open Robert Jordan’s really long Wheel of Time books. Even though we owned hard copies of all his books, I decided to purchase them for my Kindle and have never regretted this choice. Even after my arm healed, I still found I preferred reading really long books on the Kindle. Have I forsaken printed books? Definitely not. I typically only use the Kindle when I am too impatient to wait for a copy of a new book from the public library. 

Several years ago, the district that I work in purchased some Nooks to be housed in the library. I really like the fact that I can buy one copy of the book and it can be downloaded onto multiple devices. Because the Nooks are not to go home with students, circulation is limited and mostly used by teachers for small reading groups. The Nooks have provided a way to update the guided reading books available to teachers at minimal cost. Students find the Nooks a bit old-fashioned and prefer to use iPads instead. Funding has been limited for the Nooks so I really like that Barnes and Noble provides a free book and app every Friday. If only I would remember to check the website every Friday.

Thing 13: Media Skills – Collages, Quotes, and More

I have used photo collages for various projects at school — most recently for students to use to draw inferences based on what they see in the photos. I love to use Fotor because it is simple to use, free, and saves as a picture onto my computer. Below is a photo collage I made using pictures from the Library Congress Prints & Photo collection, specifically from the National Child Labor Committee Collection. It took me only a few minutes to find the pictures I wanted and I used the URL to insert the picture directly into the collage.

Child Labor


I decided to give Pixlr a try and also found it simple to use but also a lot more options — almost too many. I took a picture owned by me and first cropped out everyone but myself. I then added various effects, a sticker, a border, and an overlay. The end result is almost unrecognizable which is what I was trying to achieve.

My family transformed


My students love taking pictures of themselves and would enjoy using these programs to transform their images. I have a 4th grade teacher that used PicCollage as an enrichment project for her top students. The students typed their research and added related images in the background. What I loved about the project was that the students weren’t limited by the number of different collages they could make.

One complaint about both of these programs is that I was unable to get them to work properly in Google Chrome. Since this is the browser that I prefer, I found it frustrating that I couldn’t use it. I also used Quozio and loved how easy it was to create a beautiful picture of a quote. The downside: the picture couldn’t be saved and you needed to create an account to use the picture. It would have been great if the website provided a way to include HTML code for use on a website or blog.

My 6th grade students will be using BiteSlide to create online posters of their research information. Of course, this is only after they type a summary of their information, as required by the classroom teacher. This is their motivation to get finished so that they can have some fun and add a personal touch to their research. I found BiteSlide’s interface to be similar to Glogster but it is free to use and up to 30 students can be added to each account.

Thing 12: Edmodo & Schoology

This is a topic that although I am intrigued by Learning Management Systems, I find them extremely difficult to implement with so students. First, I have over 300 students and even if I just focused on one grade, that is still around 60 students. Second, many of my students do not have Internet access in their homes. Lastly, my teachers are not using these tools so I wouldn’t be able to collaborate with them.

Several years ago, I tried using Edmodo with my 5th and 6th grade classes. I added assignments, quizzes, and allowed them time to chat with each other. My students loved the social aspect but had a difficult time following the rules that were discussed: no bullying, no foul language, no personal discussions, and no changing profile pictures unless it was copyright free. By the end of the year, I received an email from a mother wanting to know who was responsible for watching over the site because her daughter was being bullied. Of course, this parent never bothered to read her daughter’s posts or she would have discovered that it was going both ways and her daughter actually started the whole thing. I ended up disabling all student accounts and haven’t used it since. Not the outcome I expected.

In my short exploration of Schoology, it seems to have a similar interface to Edmodo. I liked how easy it was to create a task, quiz, and also on the flip side, how easy it was to take a quiz or submit an assignment. The fact that students can submit an assignment and update it and you still have a copy of each version is a great way to show evidence of the process students take when writing. 

One of the things I didn’t like about Edmodo was that my comments and interactions integrated into all of the comments and many times students missed what I sent because it was buried by other comments. Schoology seems to have fixed this problem by having messages from the teacher separated from all other discussions. 

Sometime in the next year or so, several of my classes will have 1 to 1 iPads. The team is currently reviewing learning management systems and other programs to use in implementing this program. Next time they meet, I will suggest they look at Schoology. In the meantime, I have an upcoming research project with 6th graders on volcanoes — maybe I will give Schoology a try.

A Hidden Gem – LitPick

During a slow day of classes at school and while browsing the Internet looking for new ideas, I stumbled across AASL’s Best Websites for Teaching and Learning. After looking through the various resources, I found LitPick to be one of the more interesting websites listed because it offered free ebooks to young adults and a place for young adults to write reviews and connect with other readers. The mission of LitPick is “to help preteens and teens develop a lifelong love of reading by empowering young readers to share their opinions in a social community (LitPick: About Us: Our Mission).”

LitPick is free for young adults and has  a quick sign up process. Teachers can also sign up whole groups of students. Once signed in students can begin to read ebooks. After reading the books, students are expected to add their review of the book to the website. For those who don’t have access to the Internet, there is a pay option to receive print copies of books. After looking through the list of books, I was quite surprised to see the newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid was one of the books available for students.

Adults can also become members and are eligible to apply for book giveaways but cannot access the free ebooks. Adults cannot post reviews directly to the website but their is a place to post them on the forums where students could see them.

I loved the idea of the website that I signed up right away and even applied for a few of the book giveaways. Three days later, I had received my first free book. Although I haven’t finished reading this book yet, I plan to add my reviews to this blog and link back to LitPicks so other people can find it.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend you do so right away.

Thing 11: Connecting Students to the World with Maps

Although I have used different mapping tools for personal use, I have only used Google Maps for the first time this year and I don’t really think it was too successful. After looking through all of the different links, I find myself wanting to work with classroom teachers on a few of these websites to help students connect themselves to the world around them.

Google Map

After helping to teach the Stories Module to 1st graders, I wish this topic had come up before since the stories take the students around the world. Although I created a Google Map that had the countries pinned and the story title, I think I could have made it better had I understood more about Google Maps. The module asks the teacher to use a map and point out the locations for each story but it doesn’t really have any connection to those countries beyond a pin on the map. It would be great to provide students with pictures from each location in ancient and modern times to connect to how different places are around the world.


I looked through HistoryPin and was fascinated by all the photographs of grandparents that have been uploaded. What a great way to honor someone while at the same time providing a snapshot of time across many generations and places. This site would be useful for teaching primary sources about historical and current events.


I was pleasantly surprised to see that someone had added photos for Oswego, NY on WhatWasThere. Last year, a 4th grade teacher had her student complete research on places of interest in Oswego. She went around to different landmarks and took pictures for students to use. A way to integrate students in this process would be for them to take a walking tour and take pictures themselves. Also, it would be fun for them to take pictures of the same places already uploaded and add their pictures from today. The town has changed extensively since the photos on the site and I think the students would be fascinated to see the changes. Student could also ask friends and families for pictures to be scanned and added to the website. This would be a good way to teach them to take pride in the place where they live.

Google Earth

Students love to use Google Earth to look for their homes and to see the homes of their friends. Since many of my students do a report on animals, I am intrigued by the National Geographic layer and how it can be used to learn more about the animal kingdom.


Lastly, I played around with GeoGuessr. In order to get the most out of this game, I think you have to either have a lot of knowledge about the world or no knowledge at all. Why? In the first, you can learn how well you know what areas around the world look like and how similar areas are along latitude lines. In the second, you can learn all about the different areas around the world and expand your world view. Many of my students have never been out of New York let alone out of the country. This would give them an easy introduction into how other people live in both cities and rural areas. You could have students play the game online but also have a written part where they had to explain why they chose the location and what clues they used from the pictures (road signs, type of tree, mountains, etc…). 


Only time will tell how useful these websites are in my teaching. With the use of the Modules in my district I believe I am going to have to fight an uphill battle to get teachers to step outside the Module box and work with me on something that isn’t specifically scripted from the state. As the world becomes more global, I think it is essential that we teach students a global and not just a local perspective and these mapping tools can definitely open up a whole new world to my students.


Presentation Tools – VoiceThread

Although I have seen how other people have used VoiceThread over the last few years, I have never used it with my classes. Not sure why other than the fact that there are so many options out there that I forget about this one.

I really liked how easy it was to get started and feel that even my lowest students would be able to use VoiceThread. The biggest obstacle would come adding in comments whether by voice or by typing. I have only a few microphones so it would take a long time for students to record their comments. On the other hand, my students are not very fast at typing so it could take them several class periods to type in only a few comments.

It took me about 10 minutes to create the VoiceThread below using pictures I had already saved onto my computer and then adding my comments. I chose to make this because each year, I have my Kindergarten students do beginning research on naked mole rats. Since they are so young, I teach them that research is something you do when you want to learn more about something that interests you (ex.: dogs, cats,   cars, etc…). We read a fiction and a nonfiction book and then compare them. Using these books, the students pull out facts about them. The VoiceThread below shows the information that is typically learned by the students.

Naked Mole Rats VoiceThread