Student Smiles Tell the Story

We had some fabulous news recently from our partner teacher in South Africa! In late February we mailed off two boxes of books to Principal Phuti Ragophala and her students at Pula Madibogo Primary School in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.



Earlier in February, my students raised $1400 in a coin drive to send as many books to our partner students as we could this year.


The workers at the post office always tell me that it will take 7-10 business days for the boxes to arrive at their destination. Believe me – that’s never happened! More like 4-5 weeks is my experience! In any case, I saw this post on Facebook this week.

package mar 2016

The timing of the arrival was perfect actually. They arrived right before the school was going to close for the Easter holidays. The students were glad to have some books to take home to read during vacation!

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These smiles on their faces really tell the whole story.Students can make a difference in the lives of other students. They just need to be empowered to do it by their teachers and librarians.

How are you empowering your students to be global learners?

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Dr Seuss Guessing Game


To celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday this year, I added a ‘fishy’ guessing game. I found this marvelous box and directions in a closet in my library. Thanks Ms. Metcalf for leaving this game for us to use!

I re-purposed some containers of various sizes and filled them with fish crackers. Then I made up some simple entry forms, ran them off on bright paper and we were off and running on a simple center for any student to use. We only had two rules:

1 – Only one entry per person

2 – The person that guesses the closest to the actual number WITHOUT GOING OVER will win.

It was fun listening to conversations at the table about how many fish there were. Some students were absolutely certain that they had the perfect method for guessing the right number. We had a wide range of guesses from 1 to 1,000,000 which goes to show that practicing math estimation is a good thing to do!


We had hundreds of entries as you can see here inside the box! It took quite awhile to sort through all the entries to find two winners – one for grades K-2 and one for grades 3-5.

The actual number of fish crackers in the box (yes I counted them) was …..


We have two winners! In the K-2 group, one boy guessed 955 and he was the closest without going over.

In the 3-5 group, one girl guessed 987! She was only 2 fish crackers from guessing the exact number!


Both students will earn a prize of a fresh package of fish crackers and a brand new book!


Now I wonder how I will change this for next year! Anyone have any suggestions?

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E2 Educator Exchange

BudapestHungaryOn Saturday I will be leaving Seattle for this fabulous city in this photo. Do you know which one it is?  I’ll give you a couple hints. Hint #1 – It’s not in North or South America, Africa, or Asia.  Hint #2 – It is a landlocked country. None of its borders touch an ocean or sea. Hint #3 – It is in the “EU” but uses its own money, called the Florint. Hint #4 – The Danube River flows between the two parts of the city.

Have you guessed it by now? Yes, this is a photo of Budapest, the capital and largest city in Hungary. I’m going there because in January I received this email invitation.

WIN_20160302_21_50_13_ProI was invited to participate and represent the United States as one of the 15 US teachers in the Global Educator Exchange. For three days I will be surrounded by some of the most creative and innovative educators from around the world. We will share our experiences, collaborate on projects and learn new techniques to integrate technology in our classrooms. Some of the event highlights include:

WIN_20160302_21_50_05_ProThe conference will be at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest. I don’t know anything about this hotel, but judging from the photos I’ve seen, it appears to be a beautiful example of restored Hungarian architecture.

53dabbe16dec627b149fee28_corinthia-grand-hotel-royal-budapest-budapest-hungary-106366-3 83_6ad013b2I also was invited to visit The American International School of Budapest on Monday with some other educators. We will be touring the school and talking to fellow teachers about their techniques. I am really looking forward to visiting the library of course!

When I travel I am always fascinated by what the money looks like. I got some Florints – their currency- from the bank. The money is beautiful!

WIN_20160302_21_51_26_Pro I’ve had a lot of questions about what the weather will be like. I can’t say I know for sure, but my weather app tells me that it will be in the high 50’s with mostly cloudy weather during the week. So, mostly like Seattle.

This week will be learning, learning, learning! I know I will return with a tired brain full of new ideas to share and try at Cougar Ridge. As much as I am able, I will share photos and blog. I will also tweet photos on our library Twitter account @CRidgeLibrary.

See you back at school on the 14th!

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Reflections on NCCE 2016

Last week I was able to attend the NCCE (Northwest Council of Computer Educators) conference in Seattle. It was by far the best conference I have been to in years. Here are my top reflections from attending the TeacherLibrarian Summit, the Keynote sessions with Kevin Honeycutt and Cheryl Strayed, and the numerous sessions I attended.

ncce 16

  1. Try makerspaces with your students

One of the major topics of the conference had to do with the makerspace movement. What strikes me the most is that anyone can have a makerspace and you can make it your own. There is no perfect way to start – no perfect way to have one in your library or classroom. You have to find what works for you, your students, and budget. Have no budget? Start with donated items, cardboard, tape. Just let the kids create and make. Stand back and watch their genius shine.

  1. Wikipedia is not your enemy

I think probably most teachers have said it at least once, “No you can’t use Wikipedia as a source in your paper.” Yet, did you know that every article in Wikipedia is rated by a strict rubric, which you can view? The highest rated articles achieve that rating because they have been reviewed by experts and academics. Open any article, click on the talk tab next to the article tab. Scroll to the article rating, and open quality scale. You will be able to view the rubric. Be prepared to be surprised.

  1. YouTube works in the classroom

Why not YouTube? Videos are engaging. You can teach content with them. Students can create their own content and publish on YouTube. Plus, with websites tools such as Zaption, you can turn videos into interactive assessment tools that engage students and deepen understanding.

  1. We need to be global educators

Our students can’t afford for us to keep learning within the confines of our classroom walls. We need to open connections with the world around us. Try out International Dot Day, Talk like a Pirate Day, World Read Aloud Day. We can’t teach students to be global citizens if we never open the world to them.

  1. Share your story

Kevin Honeycutt and Cheryl Strayed, author of Lost, along with nearly ever presenter at the conference said it numerous times. Share your story. Share what you are doing in the classroom with others. By others I mean, people outside of your school and district. Again,we can’t ask our students to be global citizens, if we don’t model it ourselves. Blog, write, share.

  1. Persist through the blisters

Often the best learning comes from the mistakes we make from taking risks. Kevin Honeycutt talked about how students who want to learn to play guitar often quit at the blister stage. They quit when the learning gets hard. We all need to risk, and learn through the blisters. We need to model persistence and help our students develop the tenacity to push through the hard muck to the reward on the other side.

  1. Meet the new Office tools

If you haven’t tried some of the new Microsoft Office Tools, now is the time. Check out how you can flip your classroom with Office Mix, and PowerPoint. Create dynamic presentations with Sway where the content is the focus and Sway takes care of the design. Use OneNote Notebooks to save teaching content in digital notebooks that you can access from any of your devices.

  1. Start using Social Media

If you aren’t on social media yet, what is stopping you? Don’t want to read posts on what a friend had for dinner or see their latest baby photos? Have professional accounts or classroom accounts. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter classroom or library accounts open the world of global citizenship and connections for your students. Here is where you can share what your students are doing with the world.


  1. Teach digital citizenship

Our kindergarten students were born into a world with technology at their fingertips. Many were learning to swipe a phone or iPad before they could walk. What our students don’t know is how to be a responsible digital citizens. We need to teach them. Common Sense Media, Mike Ribble, Craig Badura, YouTube, NetSmartz and iKeepsafe all have materials you can use in your classroom.

  1. Skype in the Classroom or Google Hangouts –

We no longer have to think we need to be the experts. With the speed in how everyday knowledge changes, we can’t be. So, bring the experts into your classroom. Use Skype in the Classroom or Google Hangouts to talk with experts, authors, or take virtual field trips. Bring just-in-time learning into your classroom.

  1. Primary coding for young kids

Coding isn’t limited to the older high school, computer nerdy kids and teachers anymore. Students can code at any age, and the younger we start, the more skills they will have by the time they graduate.

  1. Don’t marry the tool

Sometimes we get hung up on whether Apple, Google or Microsoft is best. Hello? – can we all get along now? It’s not the tool that matters, it’s what you do with it to make learning better. If that means using a Surface in the morning and an iPad in the afternoon, then do it. Use the tool that makes the most sense for what your students need to learn.

  1. Empower Students

We need to empower our students by sharing their voices. Publish their work and open up the world to them. Andy Plemmons talked about how he has a Student Book budget team who is given a set budget and then is empowered to decide the books they want to buy for the library. Kevin Honeycutt emphasized that we need to honor the work of kids by helping them publish or sell their work. We need to let them inspire the world with their ideas on how they can help others.

  1. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable

Cheryl Strayed and Kevin Honeycutt both emphasized the risk taking theme.

“Innovation is all about risk raking and being willing to fail.” Cheryl Strayed

“Wanna make change? Break into the classrooms and burn down the file cabinets full of lesson plans.” Kevin Honeycutt

  1. Reflect

This blog post has helped me reflect on what struck me the most   at   the NCCE conference, so I can narrow my focus to some key elements and bring them into my library classroom. We teach our students to reflect, but we also need to do it ourselves. When you take a risk and it flops, ask the hard questions. What happened and why? Learn, adjust and try again. Don’t quit at the blisters, develop the calluses and keep moving forward.

If you want to learn more about sessions at the conference, you can still learn from the comfort of your home. Visit the NCCE conference website here and the presenter resources here.

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Some Kind of Courage


My students and I are BIG fans of Dan Gemeinhart. When he published The Honest Truth, I couldn’t wait to share it with my students.

dan gemeinhart

This novel of a boy with cancer who wants to make his own choices, tugged at my heart. I don’t have time to make many book trailers these days, but I made time for The Honest Truth. I convinced my husband to take me on a road trip to Mt. Rainier, so I could capture photos of the scenes in the book. I shared the finished trailer with Dan and he published it on his blog.

My students fell with it too, and soon even four copies weren’t enough to circulate in the library. They begged for me to see if we could Skype with Dan. He told us last spring about the new book he was doing the final edits on. We were all eager for January 2016 to come.

Then I switched schools and had a new group of students who had never read The Honest Truth. What would be their reaction to this fabulous book? Would it be similar to my last school? The answer is a resounding yes! Again, I had more students wanting to read this book than I had available in the library. Many students bought their own copies at our book fair and teachers bought copies too after hearing the buzz from their students.

So, when Some Kind of Courage was released in late January, I was eager and nervous to read it. I loved The Honest Truth so much, I was worried that Dan’s second book wouldn’t measure up to my expectations.

I was silly to worry. Dan scored again with Some Kind of Courage.

Set in 1890 in Eastern Washington state, this historical fiction book is the story of Joseph Johnson, a twelve year old boy in search of his beloved horse Sarah. Sarah is the only family he has after his father, mother and sister die. When Joseph finds out she has been sold, he is determined to get her back as fast as possible.

Joseph faces numerous obstacles along the way, but never gives up. Joseph is the kind of realistic character, that as a reader you feel like you know him, and feel his heartbreak at every turn. At many points I wanted to bring him home and go get that horse myself to put him out of his misery.

And that’s Dan’s gift. He knows how to create characters that you relate to emotionally. Every trial the main character faces hurts and each success is a celebration that you feel as much as the character. This historical adventure story will take you on a ride full of hope, angst, and courage. Bring a tissue, you might need it along the ride.

Some Kind of Courage

Dan Gemeinhart


Published by Scholastic Press 2016

Honest Truth Book trailer

Dan’s blog



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Hack the Classroom

On Saturday, January 30th, Mrs. Moynihan and I were very fortunate to be able to be part of the Hack the Classroom live studio audience on the Microsoft Redmond campus.


During the event we had the opportunity to listen to Hadi Partovi (founder of, speak about his experiences with computers growing up and the importance of teaching students how to code as early as kindergarten. The same morning President Obama gave his support for coding in his morning address.

“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill — it’s a basic skill,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly television and radio address. “I’ve got a plan to help make sure all our kids get an opportunity to learn computer science.”

When we think of programming, we often think of teenagers huddled over complicated script, but coding works with the younger children too as demonstrated by Canadian teacher Leah Obach. Leah teaches first grade and her students have been coding most of the year. Her class was chosen to be featured in the Hack the Classroom event. Here is her classroom in action.

Seeing how easily her students approach computer programming has inspired me to try more in my library classroom.

Another one of the speakers was Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine and Maker Faires. He brought attention to the fact that our students need time to be creative in the classroom. They need time to make things because it helps them develop their critical thinking skills, perseverance and expand their creativity.

3D Magna Tiles

3D Magna Tiles

Richard Snyder, a middle school librarian in the Lake Washington School District asked Dale what the role school libraries have with the maker space concept. The librarians in the audience were thrilled when he said, “My secret weapon in class is the school librarian.” Makerspace time is so important to bring into the libraries because we work with all the students.

Jeff Kash spoke about how he uses OneNote and OneNote ClassNotebook in his classes. Students using OneNote no longer lose all their papers or have trouble organizing themselves. OneNote stores everything digitally, so students and teachers can access anytime from any device.

Rafranz Davis explained how she uses Minecraft edu in her classes. I’m probably the last person on earth who hasn’t played Minecraft yet, but I am intrigued by the higher level thinking skills that are engaged when playing this game.

If you would like to watch the recording of the Hack the Classroom event, this link will take you to the website, where it will be available for about 90 days.

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Coin Drive Exceeds Goal

Our Coin Drive to raise money for postage to send boxes of books to our partner schools in Ghana, Lesotho and South Africa exceeded our goal!


In the course of three days we raised – - Glitter Graphics – Glitter Graphics

How absolutely fantastic is that?! Our goal was $1,000 and we raised over $400 more than our goal!


Most of the money we raised was in coins. We had over 4800 pennies donated! It took hours to sort and count the coins. Thankfully there were many volunteers (students and staff) to came to help! We did use Coinstar to count the pennies otherwise it would have taken hours to count and roll them.

IMG_7856 IMG_7857 IMG_7858

Now that we have money, we can box up donated books and send them overseas! Each student will have the opportunity to sign a book and create a book mark to insert in the boxes.

2014 shipment 1


In a few weeks, we will see some happy faces from some children who can really use these materials. Here is a photo from Mr. Malakane’s classroom in Lesotho taken last spring. His students often use these books in lessons as well as free reading at home.


I want to thank our school community and especially our students who donated their own money to help a student in another part of the world.  Your generosity is amazing. Whether you donated a penny or a dollar, every cent helps. Your actions matter!


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African Animal Research for 2nd Graders

Our second graders will be doing research using the database PebbleGo about an African mammal. Today we are collecting information about which African mammals to study in each class. We are using Excel Online to collect our data. The data will help us form study groups about different African mammals.

Please, if you are not a second grader at our school, please do not take our survey!

White Rhino Valentina Storti via Compfight

African Mammal Survey Link


Britain's Next Top Zebra

Scorpions and Centaurs via CompfightCreative Commons License Tambako The Jaguar via Compfight

If you would like to learn how to make an Excel online survey, this QuickTip video will give you all the directions you need to get started.

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Penguin Survey for 1st Graders

Our first graders will be doing research using the database PebbleGo about a penguin. Today we are collecting information about which penguin to study in each class. We are using Excel Online to collect our data. The penguin with the most votes will win for each class.

IMG_6729Creative Commons License Dwilliams851 via Compfight

Please, if you are not a student in our first grade classes, please don’t take this survey!

Penguin Survey Link


If you would like to learn how to make an Excel online survey, this QuickTip video will give you all the directions you need to get started.

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A 2016 Facelift for Dewey

“Mrs. Hembree, can you help me find the wolf (substitute any animal) books?”

“Did you look on the poster to find the number?”

“Yes, but I can’t find the number on the shelf, can you help me?

Sound familiar?  I moved to a different school this fall. The library has a big collection and is very well organized. We have a big poster with all the important animal Dewey numbers listed in alphabetical order. Yet questions about how to find books happen daily in my library and I’m willing to bet it’s happened in yours.



We have signs with numbers on the edge of the shelf.  However, when you are 8 or 9 years old, trying to find a book with Dewey numbers extending two and three numbers past the decimal point is….well….pointless.


They can’t find the numbers on the spine and give up. Even our parent volunteers find it difficult to shelve the books sometimes.

 Student frustration with finding the books they want to read is the major reason I switched to genre shelving in my fiction area.


It’s also the reason why last year in my former library I switched to a subject/theme organizational system in the picture books.

genre pic books


I plan to do it again in my new library, but that’s a project for next year. When I do, it will be modeled after the method the King County Library System is now using with their picture books in the 48 public libraries in the system. Their changes came after research with parent focus groups to determine how parents think books should be organized. After analyzing the results, the picture books are now arranged by categories and have as many face out books as possible.



 If it works for the largest library system in the country, I think it can work in my elementary library. While this bird walk into the KCLS shift may seem irrelevant, seeing the books on the shelf this way actually helped me take action on doing something about the non-fiction problem.

Back to the non-fiction books. I’ve never touched or messed with the non-fiction books.

Until now.

I’ve read countless blog posts and articles about librarians who ditched Dewey completely. I may not like Dewey 100%, but I do like the basic organizational system. In many ways it really works.  I wasn’t ready to destroy a system that had its merits. I just wanted to re-vamp it, but I didn’t know how. 

Then this fall I read a blog post on the Wrinkle in Tech blog by Mrs. J who simplified Dewey with a whole number dewey system. No more decimal points! She’s made terrific signs to use to lead students to the area they are looking for. We exchanged a few emails as I asked some more clarifying questions. I thought I had an answer to my dilemma. I bought the signs on TpT and started adopting this method in certain sections. Yet, I still had the animal problem.

When students go to the shelf to find books on panda bears for example, they expect that all the panda bear books will be together, as in next to each other. Not some here and some more 5 books away farther down the shelf. After all, isn’t that the point of the numbering system? It’s what the kids think. Of course, that’s not how it works in reality. I still needed to figure out how to keep the animals together on the shelf. I went back to the drawing board and dug deeper in my research.

To my absolute delight, I found a 2013 blog post Mammals: A Dewey “Do-over” by Sarah Ducharme on her Try Curiosity library blog. She figured out the solution, that is so obvious. Hallelujah! She organized her land mammals by animal and changed the call number to reflect the area and subject of the book.

mammals dewey

Generalized books on multiple mammals are 599, but all land mammals are 599.1 plus the animal name. For example, 599.1 ELE (elephant) All the elephant books have the same call number and are placed on the shelf next to each. Instead of having to remember an author’s last name, a student can search for a book on the shelf in alphabetical order by animal. You can read a more detailed explanation of Sarah’s system here. It’s simple. It makes sense. It meets my objective of making it easier for kids to find books on the shelves independently.

Winter break gave me some time to think about how I could interweave these two systems in our library. It’s also when I walked into the KCLS library and saw their complete changes. In addition I was reading Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students by Pernille Ripp for a book study group.  In chapter 2, I read this:

“Once again, reflection is where we begin. Ask yourself, would you like being a student in your own room.”

I want our school library to be a place where students can successfully and easily find the books they want. It’s not a book depository that must uphold the merits of an organizational system developed in 1876. My students are frustrated by our system. That part is obvious. If I was an elementary aged student, I wouldn’t like how complicated it is to find a book in the library when it’s so easy at a bookstore. Pernille’s two sentences cemented my belief that change was not only important, it was necessary for students to be successful library users.

There’s nothing like a new year to begin a new system. Not to be overwhelmed by the vastness of animals, I started small with the pet books. All the cat, dog, horse and other small pet books are together in 636 with a whole number dewey system. I typed up new call numbers, changed the numbers in the catalog and got to work re-labeling and shelving books.



Furthermore, I decided that pigs, sheep and cows would be removed from this section and shelved with the other land mammals.


Yes, they are farm animals, but it’s 2016. We live in a suburb near a large metropolitan city. My students don’t think of cows, pigs and sheep as being anything other than a mammal. I doubt more than a few have ever seen a farm, let alone know what animals live on a farm. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen quizzical looks from students when they see cows near the pet section. The farm animals were moving.

Here is the final result of stage one of our revamped Dewey project. I’m not sure if the sign at the top is what exactly what students will find useful, but it’s a start.


Now I can’t wait to see what the students say! Check back in the next few weeks. As I move through other areas, I will publish more photos and share student reaction to the changes.


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