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Thursday, October 30, 2014


Recently, as I was teaching a review lesson on how to use the different search features of the library catalog to a group of fourth grade students, I used the term “vanilla” to differentiate the older less flexible interface with the two newer versions that have more options for students to customize their search experience. As I related the term to Minecraft to help students understand what I meant, a female student looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Mrs. Barton, are YOU a GAMER?? I am. Do you play Minecraft?” After reflecting on this short interaction with a student (and explaining that I prefer RPGs, although I recognize the draw of sandbox games), a few questions came to my mind. Are perceived stereotypes of gamers and coders affecting the likelihood for female students to pursue education and careers in computer science, specifically game creation? What can educators do at the K12 level to prepare female students for possible careers in the computer science field? Should gaming and coding in the K12 classroom be considered essential learning?

Some interesting findings emerged as I began to research females’ involvement in gaming or coding. As of the 2014 gaming demographics report from the Entertainment Software Association, female gamers currently make up 48% of the market. Unexpectedly, at least to me, a larger percentage of women over the age of 30 than boys under the age of 18 are gamers (Essential, 2014). Female coders, however, make up only around 18% of the professionals in the industry, an industry dominated by white males in their late 20s. Most women who begin a degree program in computer science do not finish it. 1984 seems to have been a turning point for a large decline of women pursuing computer science professions (with continued growth in other STEM professions), with one possible cause being a biased cap on classes due to a large influx of students into computer science academic programs. (Guzdial, 2014) Are there other factors that could be affecting the rise in female gamers and the drop in female coders?

Professionally, K12 education is dominated by women (76%). (Goldring, 2013) However, most students currently enrolled in high school AP STEM classes are white or Asian males. (Guzdial, 2014) Teachers who implement educational gaming in their classrooms are most likely those who game for personal enjoyment, regardless of gender. (Takeuchi, 2014) My tentative conclusion from these studies is that women who left the field in university in the 1980s are possibly some of those women who pursued another career such as teaching, but continued gaming for enjoyment, and see its value in an educational setting. They are a large part of the industry growth as users, but not as creators.

Is there more we can do to promote coding and gaming among students, not just girls, but all students? At what point will educational content games (which in my opinion are mostly more expensive versions of flash cards) be replaced with sandbox and virtual experience games? And can we, as educators, begin to implement gaming and coding in the curriculum as an essential skill? And how can we take a 4th grade girl's love of gaming and help her realize a possible career path?


Essential facts about the computer and video game industry: 2014 sales, demographic, and usage data. (2014, April 1). Retrieved October 30, 2014, from

Goldring, R., Gray, L., and Bitterman, A. (2013). Characteristics of public and private Elementary and secondary school teachers in the United States: Results from the 2011–12 schools and staffing survey (NCES 2013-314). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from

Guzdial, M. (2014, October 30). NPR When Women Stopped Coding in 1980's: As we repeat the same mistakes. Retrieved October 30, 2014, from

Holdren, J. (2013, May 31). Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education 5-year strategic plan: A Report from the Committee on STEM Education National Science and Technology Council. Retrieved October 30, 2014, from

Takeuchi, L. M., & Vaala, S. (2014). Level up learning: A national survey on teaching with digital games. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sad Middle Grade Fiction...Really, People?

After a summer of a vacation from blogging, school has started and once again I am immersing myself in children, information, and children's literature. Battling burnout, I took a break from children's literature. I lazed (well, sort of, with two graduate classes and an IT internship) over World of Warcraft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and Angel), and many comic books (Sandman, Deadpool, X-Men, Avengers, and Wolverine).

Back in the pleasurable grind of supervising four elementary school libraries, training two new assistants, meeting new kindergarteners, and renewing professional and student relationships, I revisited the bin of Illinois Bluestem and Rebecca Caudill nominees for 2015 that I neglected for two months. First, my question to the two committees is, "How many sad animal books do we need to read in one year, really?" REALLY? The ONE subgenre I DETEST. So, I still have not read A Dog Called Homeless, The Five Lives of Our Cat, Zook, The One and Only Ivan (don't judge me), and Chained. I bawled over One For the Murphys. I ignored my husband and daughter to find out what happened to the three children in The Clockwork Three. Legend I read in one sitting, most of the others I enjoyed as well, but I draw the line at animal books. When will I be able to read the books on these lists without my normally dry and rational self turning into a weeping ball of incoherent mush? Seriously, committees, find a happy place next year.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Play With Purpose

The following are excerpted from my class blog for my educational gaming graduate course.

Gee's identity principle has application not only in gaming, in my experience, but also in reading. One of the foundational principles I believe narratives (whether fiction or nonfiction) play for a person is that they provide the reader with a safe opportunity to experience someone else’s life. As an elementary school librarian, one of my purposes is to introduce students to that experience, and help them find meaning in that experience so they continue to seek it out. My favorite games, in fact, have been those that allow the same type of costuming as my favorite types of books. “Being” Link is like “being” Bilbo Baggins. In deep play, where the child is totally absorbed in his or her created “world,” I think melds the principles of identity and manipulation. If as an educator I could tap into that deep play state, I believe deep learning can take place. 

In his video interview, Zimmerman states “Games are like buildings we inhabit….a space of possibilities where anything is possible.” Thinking of a game designer as an architect who is building a space and setting the rules by which the players interact with and in the space made the concept begin to make more sense to me. In Salen’s video, she defines game design as a way of looking at the world. If I start with those similar views of game design, I feel like then my approach to designing games will move to more specific questions. What is the ultimate goal of my world? What are the physical properties? How many people can inhabit my world at once? How do they interact with the world? With each other? How can you achieve the ultimate goal? How will players know when they've achieved it? “Game design is a process by which a game designer creates a game, to be encountered by a player, from which meaningful play emerges.” (p. 80)
[A small commentary on some people's perceptions of World of Warcraft, which is required play for my class. How cool is that!]
I started categorizing reactions I got when I told people I was playing WoW. They all have fallen into one of these categories:

1. [raised eyebrows] "Seriously?" or more directly "That's really lame."
2. [disapproving grimace] "I know people who ruined their lives over WoW addictions and an inability do deal with normal life."
3. [happy dance] "You too?! What world are you in, what class/level are you, what's your name and when do you want to meet to play together?!"

My responses are:
1. [varied emotional reaction] "Yes, seriously." and "No, it's not." (Mental note: don't bring it up with this person again.)
2. [Silence] "Ummmm." (Mental note: don't bring it up with this person again.)
3. [reciprocal happy dance] "Suramar, Hunter class 13, Theragarai, and as soon as we can log on!" (Mental noe: Yippee! I found a friend!)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why I Love Hosting Guest Authors

This week author Steve Cotler visited the four Kaneland elementary schools to talk to students in third, fourth and fifth grades about fiction writing. Steve is not only a wonderful newer author (of the Cheesie Mack series), but also an all around interesting person, which had me reflecting on why I love hosting authors in elementary schools.

The obvious first answer as an elementary school librarian, is that it supports teachers' writing instruction and student reading. Well, yes, that's important, but I think it's backwards. Don't bring in an author to support instruction, bring in an author to show students how what you're teaching them is preparing them for real life. The end result is the focus. Authors are real people. They don't necessarily do things the way we currently teach, but if you've brought in a good one, they're able to support themselves with that craft, so they have valuable insights to offer both students and teachers.
Secondly, authors are inspiring, and they're all different. Creative people in particular often have big personalities, and can be amazing communicators. Let them communicate with your students. A great author visit will leave you with kids who have made a personal connection with this person, and are inspired in some way to be better than they were before. Maybe it's just a glimpse of the outside world, something that's not the four walls of the classroom or their neighborhood.

Thirdly, author visits are great fun. I know that sounds trivial, but in this age of testing and an environment where every minute of a kid's day is controlled, an author visit is a breath of fresh air. A worthwhile breath.

So what are the three things I took away from Steve's visits this week?

1. Be interesting. To be interesting, you have to be a thinker and a doer. Try things. Reading Steve's bio is like reading four people's bio. Be thoughtful, but do something with your thinking. You can have an idea your whole life. Act on it. Even if it is fifty years later, great things can come of it.

2. Be honest. I loved how Steve was honest with kids. He drove them to think, and wasn't afraid to tell them they were wrong and why (which I think is a fault in education currently). He did it kindly, but directly, and pushed them to do their best thinking by asking clarifying questions. He also complimented them honestly and appropriately; not too much, not too little. He also wasn't afraid to point out his mistakes or things he didn't do so well (like his first Cheesie Mack draft).

3. Be engaging. I don't just mean charming and pleasant; if you're interesting, captivate those you communicate with to give and receive what makes you all interesting. To do that, you need to be honest, but you also need to engage. See that picture of Steve with the little girl? He didn't just talk to a large group of students, he talked to a room of individuals. Watch and listen to your audience, even if it's an audience of one, and respond to them.

 We had a great couple days with Steve Cotler. I learned a lot from him, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Can We Make 2nd Grade Animal Research Relevant?

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Recently a wonderful colleague teaching first grade started experimenting with inquiry circles for ocean research. As I was working a book fair and looking through the 2015 Illinois Children's Choice Award nominees, I picked up one of my favorites, A Little Book Of Sloth. A few minutes later, NatGeo tweeted one of Lucy Cooke's adorable sloth videos: Special Squeaky Sloth Video. On the NatGeo page, there was a link provided to the ZSL EDGE site where there is information about extraordinarily unusual threatened species and how you can support these conservation efforts. So that made me think about transforming the current animal reports our second grade students do in the spring every year. 

A Little Book of Sloth

What if we still did the same reports, but added another component. Instead of each child doing a different animal in isolation, what if each classroom was divided into an animal group? What if each child still individually researched an animal of interest in that group, but as a class researched one threatened animal listed on the EDGE and created a campaign to raise awareness, raise funds, etc. Wouldn't that make the research they were doing more meaningful? What if they included a wondering paragraph in their individual report about the importance of the role of their animal in the ecology and how things would change if it were out of balance? 

I think, regardless of how much the students do enjoy the traditional reports, we can teach them to engage in learning activities that aren't just enjoyable and for acquiring knowledge, but that research serves many purposes, and it should always contribute to making the world a better place.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Finding Poems for Poetry Month

Two found poem ideas for those who have a hard time coming up with their own words:

Search Twitter for #spinepoems (without the kids watching) and you'll find a ton of great examples for an easy activity easily done either in the library or the classroom collection. Here's one I made:

Because call numbers...

the dreamer
the mailbox
three times lucky
Glory be!
okay for now
a small white scar

Blackout poems a la Austin Kleon. Librarian Jennifer Reed has a great article about using an old copy of a Harry Potter book with fifth graders to make blackout poems.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Some Thoughts On Copyright

One thing I've found recently is that there seems to be some confusion among my teachers and students as to the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. After attending Josh Mika's (Naperville #203) breakout session on Open Educational Resources, I thought I would try to clarify and provide some places for teachers and students to find material with looser permissions.

Plagiarism, as defined by, is passing off someone else's words as your own or using someone else's material without crediting them. It's a form of fraud and theft. There are several different ways plagiarism is committed:

1. Pretending someone else's idea is yours.
2. Not citing a source.
3. Not putting a quotation in quotes and crediting the person who said it.
4. Not giving the right information about a source.
5. Changing a few words here and there, but leaving the essentials the same.
6. Overdoing the quoting. Using so many quotes, you may as well have photocopied the source.

Those examples of plagiarism may or may not violate copyright law depending on the material used and the restrictions placed on the original work.

Copyright is a legal protection offered by the federal government to original works. These days, you do not have to file for federal copyright to be protected, although it makes suing a lot easier if you're registered. Any original work is automatically protected under federal copyright law. But, you say, I'm a teacher! Don't I get fair I can use anything I want as long as I'm not making money off of it?

Well, sort of. Fair use is a legal defense, not a law. So, basically, it comes into effect once you've been given a cease and desist letter or a subpoena. It's better to avoid both. Fair use has its basis in common practice in court. Out of that comes some general questions to ask about each creation you plan to use:

1. Is it for nonprofit educational use?
2. What are you using?
3. How much of it are you using?
4. Would it impact the market value?

If you feel any conscience twinges when asking yourself any one those four questions, get permission first. Better permission sooner than lawsuit later, is my opinion. Or find something in the public domain to substitute. If you have any concerns or questions about whether what you're using could be breaking the law (like showing Brave for indoor recess - bad idea), ask your friendly neighborhood librarian and she or he will be able to help you decide the best course of action.

Josh Mika has a wonderful wiki linking many OER sites as well as some digital books on how to incorporate ethical use of original works in your instruction and in student projects. Visit his wiki, Beyond4Walls and click on the DuKane link for wonderful resources.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why blog?

Focusing on reading and reviewing books off my #MustReadin2014 list instead of my main page has generated a list of draft posts that's rather startling to a fledgling blogger. So, I began to wonder, why have I become so enamored with blogging over the last few months? (The library blog 1.0 is on my district Google site.) What has blogging done for me, and what can it do for you?

1. Blogging focuses ideas.

With constant social media bombardment (self-inflicted), working with four buildings' worth of great staff and students, taking graduate classes, reading #kidlit and books for personal interest, and indulging in the occasional Netflix series binge, I need a focal point to help me filter out the nonessential. As I have an idea for a post, I create a draft and sort and sift new ideas into the appropriate post. That sorting and sifting helps me to bring together similar and disparate ideas. 

2. Blogging improves synthesis. 

See point #1. Now mush everything around, rest and let things connect. When I read and listen to information with the idea that I will likely use it or pass it along, I tend to see more connections than I would if I were just looking for the idee du jour. What is not directly applicable is easily forgettable. If I'm keeping my blogging options open, I'm more likely to try to find ways to fit new ideas together with each other or with older ideas. And synthesizing is one of the best ways to internalize new ideas.

3. Blogging promotes communication.

I know that sounds silly, because a blog is for communicating, but if you devote yourself to the care and feeding of a blog when you know someone may possibly read it, you tend to spend more effort on it. If you spend more effort, you want someone to read it, so you advertise it. If someone reads it, you've made a connection with someone (hopefully in a positive way). And ideally there's interaction so you have more ideas, more synthesis, and more communication, and everyone gets a little better in some way.

The biggest benefit to blogging for me, though, is it's rekindled my passion for my career. Blogging has provided a focus for my restless surfing, a way to organize my thoughts, and a forum for sharing them. I guess that's what I needed. So, interact. Comment on blogs, create a Twitter account, write your own blog (even if no one reads it), curate a Tumblr. It's worth the time invested.

Monday, January 27, 2014

And the Winner Is...

Today the 2014 American Library Association Youth Media Awards were announced, and as always are a fantastic list of deserving authors and illustrators. While I'm a little late with this, I'm using the ALAYMAs to launch my list of #MustReadin2014 books. (Because apparently the excitement generated by the announcement keeps overloading the ALA website, I'm linking the list from the CBC website here. Also take a look at the Horn Book reviews.) Congrats, too, to Brian Selznick for being announced as this year's Arbuthnot lecturer. I've included links to the author/illustrator websites. Please visit them, and buy from your local indy book store.

My favorites off the list this year are (out of the ones I've read so far)...drumroll please...

Journey by Aaron Becker (Caldecott Honor recipient)

Locomotive by Brian Floca (Caldecott Medal and Sibert Honor recipient)

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson (Scott King Honor for illustrator recipient)

The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli (Geisel Award recipient)

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner (Caldecott Honor recipient)

And the book that gave me chills and a major brain worm:

Doll Bones by Holly Black (Newberry Honor recipient)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Productive Failure

There has been a lot of buzz about teaching failure in education lately, so I'm sure you've thought about how to incorporate failure into your instruction. Not all types of failure, however, are useful for growth. So, how do you incorporate productive failure into your instruction?

Outcome failure is simple to evaluate; the end result fails. Put in education terms, the student fails to complete the task properly or demonstrate understanding in an assessment. Process failure can be more difficult to assess. In process failure, the outcome may be achieved, but the way the student got there is flawed in some way. To assess process failure or success, the teacher must evaluate not just the end result, but the steps along the way. In order to have both outcome and process success, the student must go through an iterative and reflective process.

Iteration is a term used in many design fields, and it means simply (in my words) to try, fail, fix, repeat. After watching the music video by OK Go, 7 year old Audri was inspired to create his own Rube Goldberg machine and documented his failures and success.

 Manu Kapur's research on productive failure shows that, when guided, students are able to demonstrate understanding of difficult concepts better than students who were either allowed to fail with no guidance, or students that were in a more controlled environment. The process of learning productive failure builds stamina, perseverance, analysis, critical thinking and creativity; skills that are difficult if not impossible to teach, but must be instilled and nurtured.  In the Choice Literacy article linked by the principals this month, the author reinforces the idea that research is a great arena for students to experience productive failure. As students go through an iterative process like research or making a Rube Goldberg machine, have them document their process along the way and reflect on it. If you need ideas about how to incorporate reflection into an iterative assignment, take a look at this article from School Library Monthly.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Chatterpix: Fun Little Add-on Element

As an add-on to a biography unit, a third grade student created a 30 second summary of her famous person. (And apparently, Jacques Cartier wasn't the most honest person.)

As a product, it's a slender demonstration of knowledge for intermediate students, but as a puzzle piece to a larger product it has some fun possibilities. And for younger students, it's a great way to show a snippet of their own work with their voice narrating to work on oral presentation skills. If I were going to take this app further with the third grade product, I'd take the written report, the hand drawn poster of the person, the Chatterpix, and combine those into a more polished product.

With those three pieces (student art, written report, and Chatterpix), students can start creating something a little more interesting. Keep the traditional report and the hand drawn work. Take a picture of the art and use Aurasma, Layar or Glogster as the vessel for making an interactive experience for other students and parents. Instead of making one long recording of the report, have the student rewrite the report in first person from the subject's perspective, and record a different Chatterpix for each subtopic. Embed each Chatterpix in a different area of the photograph of the hand drawn art using an augmented reality app or Glogster. House them on the class blog, and have the students investigate each others' reports. Or, even better, have classmates read the report and create Chatterpix based on what they've learned from their classmates.

It sounds complicated, but if you start with a small project and teach them Chatterpix by itself (and the same with the other tech tool), it's much easier to teach them to integrate these different tools with an academic concept.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

FanFiction Writing for Kids

In my burgeoning 40th birthday crisis (that started with a nine season X-Files marathon and went where Journey and U2 are suddenly cool again, video games are the priority for spare time, and tshirts are the preferred mode of self-expression), I've been reading Star Wars Extended Universe (EU) fiction, Doctor Who comics, and countless Tumblr blogs with mashups and spins on my favorite characters. In the process, I've come to appreciate the creativity of fanfiction. So, based on a handful of blogs I found wondering why people write fanfiction, I found a few things to consider for young writers:
Using a 4th grade Common Core writing standard for an example, (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.3b Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.) students could use a well-known character such as Percy Jackson, and give him a new situation to respond to. Such as what if Percy went on vacation to Colorado and encountered Choine the snow goddess? How would he react? In X-Files fanfiction, writers try to tell a story with the characters in 155 words or less, which means you have to tell your story succinctly and with careful word choice. Can you describe how Percy reacts in 155 words or less and have it be believable? Can you draw your readers in that quickly? You could even do this with a novel read-aloud or as a guided reading activity. Which brings me to my second point:
When writing shorter pieces (because in reality, most of our kids aren't going to be writing full length novels), why not take advantage of the groundwork another author has laid to establish the world? If the readers are already familiar with the world of Bone, the writer can jump into the new storyline without having to provide a lot of tedious backstory to familiarize the reader with a strange world's landscape, history and odd indigenous characters. They can focus on a single coherent plotline, a limited number of characters to develop and connecting with their audience. So, why not have students...
Fanfiction is far older than 60s sci-fi television. Shakespeare spun tales his audience was used to hearing, and relocated them in settings they understood to boot. Virgil's Aeneid was based on one of Homer's minor characters in the Odyssey. Myths, fairy tales, legends, all these were types of fanfiction in their day. ("Tell us a story of the hero Jason!") Storytelling of that sort involves audience reactions and immediate feedback. It would be easy and fun to establish fanfiction collections in notebooks or using something like a class wiki or Edmodo site for students to respond or add onto each others fanfiction stories based on their personal interests (imagine the Minecraft story collection!). And if the writer's interest is a little more obscure, try reaching out to the fanbase online via fansites or official blogs. Having a reblog of your work can be highly motivating for a budding writer. And if you're looking for that authentic tie-in...
On this site you'll see some familiar names that are great examples to hold up to your aspiring writers. Fanfic is a hot debate among writers. One author of a popular series says it's a waste of time but in my opinion every writer should be honing his or her craft writing fanfic on a daily basis if only to write something better. (But maybe that author's upset that a more popular book started as the fanfic of a frustrated reader.)

Follow-up Jan. 12: I just watched the Bronies documentary on Netflix. Did not know there was so much My Little Pony love out there!