The Great Library Makeover: Part 2

Students using our new tables and chairs during 6th grade STEAM club

Students using our new tables and chairs during 6th grade STEAM club

Back in August I blogged Part 1 of how we’ve been making over our library this year.  We’ve been really busy since then with lots of good changes, including new computers and narrower library shelves in the fiction section.  Part 2 is going to focus more on our new flexible, collaborative instruction space.  Part 3 will be about our Maker Corner.

Our new Bretford tables

Our new Bretford tables

I first blogged about receiving our Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant back in May.  At the beginning of this year, we got our new tables and chairs in, and they’ve really transformed our learning space.  As a refresher, here’s what the new tables and chairs are:

We also got a Bretford Explore 4-leg Scale-up table, but I haven’t taken any pictures of it yet.

The new tables and chairs offer a variety of layouts

The new tables and chairs offer a variety of layouts

My library is pretty small, and my school doesn’t have an auditorium or large meeting room, so our instruction space has to be super flexible.  All the new tables are on casters, and all the chairs can stack, making it considerably easier to rearrange and reset the area.  I’ve been experimenting with different layouts.  Already we’ve had a theater layout for video conferencing, small group layout for classes, and conference style for meetings.  My principal also purchased an interactive short throw projector to go over our whiteboard (which we moved here from the copy room after taking down some bookshelves).  Once the projector is installed, we’ll have even more space since the presentation cart won’t have to be in the middle of the floor.

Our new tables in action

Our new tables in action

My students have been loving the new space.  Already I’ve seen them taking ownership of it – using the whiteboards to jot notes for homework, moving chairs around to different groups.  They haven’t really started rearranging the tables themselves yet  – I think the fact that the chairs aren’t on casters is hindering this.  I’m looking into some grants to get chairs on casters – I’ll move the blue ones over to the computer lab when we get that.

Another thing I noticed was that, at first, my students didn’t realize that the corner tables were whiteboards.  I put out some dry erase markers last week, and now they’ve started using them to brainstorm more.   I plan on working the tables into lessons as well.

Overall, I love how our new furniture has increased the activity and flexibility of our space, and I’m excited to continue to make more changes and tweaks to make our environment even more student friendly.

What changes would you love to make to your library instruction space if money was no object?

Transform Your Library with Making: An ISTElib Webinar

ISTElib Makerspaces.001

This Wednesday, I’ll be presenting an ISTElib webinar on how we created our Makerspace at Stewart.  The link to the webinar will be posted on the ISTE Librarian’s Network website.  The webinar goes from 8:00-8:30 EST, followed by a half-hour Twitter chat using the hashtag #ISTElib.

I’m super, ridiculously excited about this opportunity to share the story of our Makerspace.  I’ve talked to so many other librarians and educators who are intimidated by the idea of Makerspaces, or who think you need lots of money, space, or a 3D printer before you can get started.  I’m hoping that by sharing the story of how we got started, I can inspire others to take the first leap and infuse creative learning into their libraries/classrooms.

Some of the things I’ll be talking about in the webinar are: how we got started, how we built making into our library program, and what our Makerspace looks like today.  I’d love it if you’d join us – it’s going to be awesome :)  If you can’t make it, never fear – I’ll post a link once the recording is up.

Weekly reads: October 19, 2014


*Welcome to Weekly Reads.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo throughout the week, I come across a lot of great resources that I think others would benefit from.  This post is my place to bring together some of my favorite finds of the week and share them with you.  Enjoy!*


Education/ Libraries

Technology/ Tools


Help us build a Collaborative Art Space

Our future whiteboard wall

Our future whiteboard wall

When I first started creating our Makerspace at Stewart, one of my goals was to provide a place that could support the arts and artistic creativity.  Our visual arts program was cut soon after I got to Stewart, leaving kids without a venue to express themselves visually.  Adding things like our K’nex and Epic LEGO wall have gone a long way towards bringing back these opportunities, but I want to do even more.  Thus, I’ve created a new DonorsChoose project, The Collaborative Art Makerspace.

There are two elements to this project.  The first is to create a whiteboard wall in our Makerspace using Idea Paint.  By creating this space and providing tons of dry erase markers, students will get to doodle, sketch, brainstorm and collaborate.  I’m envisioning design challenges, sketches of the day posted on Vine and Instagram, kids working on geometry equations next to kids drawing their favorite Pokemon characters.  It’s going to be a fantastic community space, and I’m really excited to provide it to my students.

We need to restock our arts and crafts supplies

We need to restock our arts and crafts supplies

The second aspect of this project is supporting what we’re already doing.  We’ve started Monday STEAM clubs with each grade, and about 200 students are involved overall.  We had our first official meeting with 6th grade last week, and one of the stations I had set up was an arts and crafts area with duct tape, Perler beads, rainbow loom bracelets and origami.  This area was a HUGE hit, and after the meeting was over, almost all of our duct tape was gone, and the other supplies were hurting too.

With this project, we will be able to restock on our supplies for duct tape crafts, Perler bead art and origami, plus introduce a new craft that my students have been interested in: weaving.  A lot of my students are curious about fiber art, and while I intend to bring in knitting and crochet later on, I feel like weaving is going to be a great introduction for them. We’ll be getting several potholder looms to start off, and I also plan on having the kids make diy looms with cardboard, paper plates and other supplies.

With the match offers currently going on, we only need $150 more in donations to make this happen.  Plus, the code SPARK is good until October 22 to match donations.  Please consider giving and help us make the arts more available to our students.  You can find our project here.  Thank you :)

Build of the Week: littleBits and LEGOs Crane

*Build of the Week is a regularly occurring segment on Renovated Learning where I’ll share some of the awesome stuff my students have been making over the past week.* 

A functional crane created by a 7th grader

A functional crane created by a 7th grader

My kids amaze me every week with the stuff they come up with in our Makerspace.  I’ve converted our video storage room into the Maker Room, and I made our littleBits and other supplies available to my kids there.  For now, I’m restricting access to this area to kids who are in one of our STEAM clubs and are familiar with the tools, but I plan on creating an orientation system to open it up to more students later on.

One tool in the Maker Room is our LEGO Dacta sets.  These are basically the same as the LEGO Technic system I was familiar with as a kid, and they focus on creating simple machines.  One of my students had seen a design for a crane made out of LEGOs before, so he decided to build one.  I’m not quite sure if he used a pattern or not, but either way, he wasn’t satisfied with just building a crane – he wanted to make it fully functional.  So he gathered a littleBits DC motor, some wires, and a power supply, and within a few minutes he created a littleBits powered crane.  It’s pretty cool.

What have your students been building lately?


How my fifth year at FAME went

How my fifth year at FAME went

This year marked my fifth year at the Florida Association for Media in Education conference.  (I actually blogged about all but my 2010 experience – you can see the 2013, 2012, and 2011 posts).  I have to say that this year was definitely my best FAME experience yet.  We had an amazing slew of awesome guests, a fabulous keynote speaker (my friend, Tiffany Whitehead) and it was my first time presenting at a conference.

Me, Tiffany Whitehead, and Okle Miller getting a selfie in

Me, Tiffany Whitehead, and Okle Miller getting a selfie in

I was super excited when I first heard that Tiffany Whitehead was scheduled to be our keynote speaker this year.  I’ve been reading her blog and following her on Twitter for awhile, and I got to meet her and the rest of my awesome ISTE Librarian’s Network friends this past summer.  Her keynote on Examining The Sacred Cows of School Librarianship was amazing, as were her other two sessions on Ditching Dewey and Connecting the Dots (her presentations are posted on her site – check them out!).  Plus, she gave a shout-out to our Epic LEGO wall and my Makerspace presentation in the keynote! No pressure for a first time presenter, right? :)

Awesome shout-out during the keynote

Awesome shout-out during the keynote

My first presentation was on finding grants and other funding for your library.  I may have been slightly freaking out and a bit nervous, but everything went well and I got a lot of positive responses from the thirty or so people that showed up.  My presentation on Makerspaces was on Friday morning at 8am.  While I was expecting a good amount of people, I didn’t think it would be packed being that early in the morning. People starting arriving at 7:30am, and by the time I was done, 92 people had shown up!  It was standing room only, with people sitting on the floor and spilling out into the halls.  I was so excited to see so many other media specialists who were interested in learning more about the Maker Movement and how it can fit it with their school.  Many people came up to me afterwards and told me about how they’re planning to start creating a Makerspace in their schools when they get back.  And there may be a few more LEGO walls in the works now too :)  If you’d like to see the slides from either of my presentations, I’ve created a page for them under my presentations tab.

My Makerspace presentation - 92 people showed up!

My Makerspace presentation – 92 people showed up!

My other favorite thing about conference like FAME is getting the chance to meet up and connect with people.  There were a ton of  fabulous authors there this year, and I spent a good amount of time fangirling and getting pictures with them.  I was also excited to meet some awesome people who I had only known through Twitter before: John Schu (@mrschureads) and Susan Bearden (@s_bearden).

Clockwise from top left: G. Neri, Chris Grabenstein, Jody Casella, Rick Yancey, Susan Bearden, John Schu, Wendy Mass, Marie Lu, Matt de la Pena in the center.

Clockwise from top left: G. Neri, Chris Grabenstein, Jody Casella, Rick Yancey, Susan Bearden, John Schu, Wendy Mass, Marie Lu, Matt de la Pena in the center.

One of the most awesome parts of this past weekend was what came after the conference was over.  FAME was in Orlando, which is near the Islands of Adventure theme park.  I’d never been before, and while talking to Tiffany, I found out that she had some time after everything wrapped up and was thinking about going to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So after the conference finished up on Friday, we headed over to get some butterbeer and see the awesomeness that is Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade in real life.  It was so much fun to get to hang out with Tiffany for the day – it definitely made for a memorable ending to an awesome conference.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

10 Tips for Writing Grant Proposals

10 tips for writing grant proposals

I’ve written a lot of grant proposals since I became a media specialist in 2010.  And while I certainly haven’t received every grant I’ve ever applied for, I have been successful at getting quite a few, including two $5,000 grants.  Like many other schools throughout the country, I’ve had to deal with my share of tight budgets.  Yet, it kills me when I hear other educators lament about how they can’t pursue Makerspaces/innovative projects/needed materials because there isn’t any money.  The money is out there, unfortunately, we just have to work a little harder now to find it.  And while DonorsChoose is an amazing resource that every educator should be making use of, sometimes you need more than that.  With all that in mind, I decided to put together some of my best tips for writing successful grant proposals.  Please make sure to check out my Grant Resources page as well, as I post a lot of useful information on there.

Here’s my tips to bring you to grant writing success:

1. Become a grant reader

Volunteer with an organization to become a grant reader.  Getting behind the scenes will give you valuable insight into what grantors are looking for.  It will help you to see firsthand what mistakes can kill a proposal, and what details can make one stand-out.

2. Read EVERYTHING you can find about the organization

Organizations giving out grants usually have a lot of amazingly useful information on their website.  Before you even begin writing, read everything you can. Print it out and highlight important details.  Look at the FAQs, the organization’s vision statement.  Read everything you can on previous recipients of the grant and what their projects were.  See if any rules or restrictions are posted.  All of this information will be vital to you as you start writing.

3. Design your grant to fit with the grantor’s vision

Tailor your project to what the organization is trying to achieve.  This doesn’t mean wildly stretching your project idea, but it means rethinking how you present it.  Last year, I knew that we needed to get more flexible, collaborative furniture for our library.  Lowes Toolbox for Education was looking to provide permanent physical improvements to schools that would boost community involvement.  So I focused on how our community uses our library space (family nights, PTSA, bookfairs, Great American Teach-In) and how this new furniture would help to facilitate that.  And we got the grant.

4. Follow all grant instructions to the letter

Nothing will kill your proposal faster than ignoring instructions.  If they say you need an itemized budget, don’t send them a vague request of $1,000 for new books.  If they say that there is a 500 word limit on your grant essay, don’t write a novel.  Print out all instructions, highlight them, and double check to make sure you follow all of them.

5. Don’t be afraid to dream big

If you ask for $500, you’ll probably get $500.  But if you ask for $1,000, maybe you’ll get $750.  Stick within the rules of the grant, but don’t be afraid to go for a big project.  Even if you fail, you’ll learn from it.  One of the first grants I wrote was a proposal for an improved audiobook collection worth $5,000. I didn’t get that grant, but I learned a lot from the process, and it helped me rework my ideas for future ones.

6. Show the grantor what you’re already doing

If someone is going to give you money, they want to see that you already have something in place.  It may take looking at what you already have with new eyes.  Got a group of kids that meets during lunch to talk about their favorite books?  Use that to ask for funds to support a book club.  Got a bin of LEGOs in the corner?  Use that as the start of a Makerspace program.  When the grantor sees that you’re already getting stuff done without funds, they’ll want to support you and help your project go further.

7. Keep the focus on the students

Talk about how awesome your students are.  Talk about their potential.  Talk about how they rise above the odds.  Grantors are looking to improve the learning experiences of your students – help them to get to know your kids.

8. Don’t complain

It’s okay to explain some of the difficulties and hardships you face, but be careful not to start whining about how budget cuts are horrible and you have nothing to work with.  No one wants to fund someone who sound negative or desperate.  Keep focused on the positive – how resilient your students are, how your books are so loved by your students that they’re falling apart, etc.  Putting a positive spin on things will make you more likeable, and more likely to get funded.

9. Proofread, proofread, proofread

Make sure you double and triple-check everything.  Get a language arts teacher to check for grammar.  Invite those the grant will affect to read it.  And make sure you have a non-educator proofread it too.  A lot of grant-readers are not educators and if you include too much jargon they won’t have any idea what you’re talking about.  Not everyone knows what CCSS, STEM, PBL, Lexile levels or Makerspaces are.

10. Put together a grant team for larger grants ($5,000 plus)

While grants less than $5,000 can usually be written easily by one or two people, if you’re going for the really big bucks, it’s a good idea to get some help.  Put together a team of people at your school to write your grant.   Check with your district too – some school districts have a grant-writing department that may be able to help you out.

Have you written grant proposals before?  What are your best tips?

Build of the Week: The Best Game Ever

Brainstorming ideas for the Cardboard Challenge

Brainstorming ideas for the Cardboard Challenge

This week, I introduced my after-school STEAM club to the Cardboard Challenge.  When I first told them we were going to be building games from cardboard, my teens were skeptical.  All their brainstorming ideas at first involved coding and electronics.  Then we watched Caine’s Arcade and they were entranced.  Suddenly, the ideas started pouring out of them as they were inspired by this amazing child and his creations.  When I first saw the sketch one of my 8th graders, J., made for The Best Game Ever, I thought he was just reminiscing about a Game Boy.  But his game was more than that.

First iteration

First iteration

J.’s idea was to create a game where you would insert a coin (or in this case, a circular K’nex piece) and try to make it roll down a ramp and into a bin.  His first iteration was with a stryofoam ramp, but through trial and error, he quickly discovered that the K’nex wouldn’t roll down this surface at all.  So he had to trouble shoot and rework his design.

J. took out the styrofoam ramp and replaced it with a cardboard ramp.  The game now worked much better, and it was actually possible for someone to win.  But this still wasn’t quite enough.  J. came back in for lunch the next day to tinker with his project some more.  He decided to add a window so that people could see through the box but couldn’t cheat while playing the game.  He also added an obstacle to the ramp making it more difficult to roll the K’nex down.  Now people playing the game have to try to flick the K’nex over the obstacles.

New version with ramp obstacle

New version with ramp obstacle

We invited beta testers to try out this newest version of The Best Game Ever.  It’s still a work in progress.  Some future improvements J. has planned: more methods to prevent cheating; a littleBits buzzer that goes off when someone scores; a “fee” collection system.  I can’t wait to see what our cardboard arcade will look like when all the projects come together!

Building our Epic LEGO Wall – Time Lapse

Check out this time-lapse video of our Epic LEGO Wall as it was created.

5 Tips for Creating DonorsChoose Projects

5 Tips for Creating DonorsChoose Projects

I was first introduced to DonorsChoose a few years ago when they had the promotion with Starbucks where gift cards were given out to patrons to spend on projects.  I had several successful projects at that time, but I didn’t really use DonorsChoose much again until last year.  It was around the same time that I started becoming more of a connected educator; reading blogs, building my Twitter PLN and discovering other like minded educators led me back to this amazing resource.  I started creating projects and mobilizing donors, and I haven’t looked back since then.  At this point, I’ve had ten projects worth over $6,000 funded through DonorsChoose.  With budgets being slashed left and right, this is an essential resource for educators looking to do something new and innovative in their schools.

Note: I’m assuming at this point that you already have a DonorsChoose account set up and are familiar with how they work.  For the basics of how to submit a project, check out this PowerPoint from DonorsChoose.

Here’s my tips to help you have a successful project:

Our Hokki stools, which we got through a project focused on serving our kinesthetic learners

Our Hokki stools, which we got through a project focused on serving our kinesthetic learners

1: Start by looking for posted projects similar to what you want to do.

As they say, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.  If you have an idea of what you want to do (tinkering station in the library, after-school yoga club, lunch-time sewing group), search for projects that are doing the same thing.  Look at their essays and materials lists.  Many times, this will help you to get a good idea of which vendor to use for a project.  Also, sometimes you might have an idea (like an arts and crafts cart) but you aren’t sure about exactly what items to get.  Finding a similar project can help you get started.

Mindstorms cart

Our new cart we received for our Mindstorms robots.

2: Look for matching offers

On your account page, there is a resources tab.  This will take you to a state by state list of current match offers for projects.  Check out the list – there’s bound to be something that you can work with, even if it wasn’t your original idea.  For an example, last year I knew that I wanted supplies to get my library’s Makerspace going.  Disney was offering a match for projects that involved hands-on learning about the environment.  I was able to create a project where students would learn about renewable and alternative energy through lessons with Snap Circuits and a K’nex renewable energy set.  Disney matched my project, and we got our supplies.  Recently, Hasbro had an offer to match projects where 50% of the supplies were Playdoh; we made a project for supplies for our MaKeyMaKeys and got funded in a couple weeks.  If you’re pursuing a match, make sure you check out other projects that received this match to see what they’re funding.

A cautionary word: be careful not to stretch your concept too far – I tried to get a physical fitness match for our Hokki stools based on the fact that they allowed movement in class and I didn’t get it.  It took a lot longer to fund that project since there ended up not being a match.

One of our MaKeyMaKeys in action

One of our MaKeyMaKeys in action

3: Don’t just ask for technology for technology’s sake

I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve seen fail where someone was trying to get an iPad/Chromebook/laptop because it was the next greatest thing.  You can certainly get technology through DonorsChoose, but donors tend to give less to tech projects, so you need to make sure you have a really good concrete plan.  I saw one project where a classroom teacher had been giving his students voice by letting them create blogs, but they only had one computer in the classroom that they all had to share.  His request for several Chromebooks got funded.  If you do create a project for tech, try to do it one item at a time.  If you go for a set of ten iPads all at once, it’s going to be really hard to raise that much funding.

Our LEGOs and LEGO books

Our LEGOs and LEGO books

4: Keep it simple

I have had some larger projects (around $800) funded, but it took a lot longer to raise the funds and it was harder to keep the momentum.  Keeping your projects smaller (at least below $500, better yet below $300) will get them funded much faster. From a donors perspective,  it feels like you’re making a much bigger difference to donate to a project that only has $300 to go than one that has $1000 to go.  You can always break up a larger project into smaller chunks.

Our LEGO wall, funded through two separate projects, thanks in part to

Our LEGO wall, funded through two separate projects, thanks in part to

5: Market your project like crazy

Once you have your project up, it is essential that you market the heck out of it.  For the first week, donations can be matched when using a code e-mailed to you by DonorsChoose (up to $100 per donor) and you want to get as many of those as possible.  Get a donation up there right away – I will often donate $10 to my projects on the first day just to get the ball rolling.  Consider giving $10 to your parents or to your best friend and ask them to donate too.  Projects with recent donations tend to show up earlier in search results.

Make sure you let your school parents, PLNs and friends and family know that your project is going on.  Post to Twitter, connect DonorsChoose to your Facebook page, send out an e-mail/text message/call home to your school’s parents.  Get over feeling like you’re begging for money; you’re not.   You’re offering others the opportunity to play a part in helping improve the educational experiences of your students.  People value that.  When they see your passion to help your students, they want to help you.

What are your favorite tips for having a successful DonorsChoose project?  What materials have your students received through them?