Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Productive Struggle

For the last week and a half, my colleague Josh Allen and I have been taking Breakout EDU to the classrooms of our 2nd-5th grade building. It's been an illuminating experience for all of us.

As we've watched students work through the game, one of the most common comments I've heard from the teachers has been, "How can you just sit back and watch?"

Let me just tell you. Sometimes it's hard. Very hard. It's hard to watch as students don't use the resources given to them. It's hard to watch as students skim past clues. It's hard to listen to students who aren't listening to their group members. It's hard to see students who are so close to getting something but are missing a small detail. 

It's hard to watch students struggle.

We as teachers want so badly to see our students succeed. But sometimes we forget that in order to succeed, sometimes we have to struggle. 

The opportunities that Breakout EDU offers are what I'd call productive struggle. 

Breakout EDU, no matter what game, teaches our students to be critical-thinkers and problem-solvers. They must determine what is and what is not important information. They must decide how to use the information they've been given. It teaches them to be good team members. In order to succeed, Breakout EDU requires team work. It requires students to take turns. It requires them to share their ideas and explain their thinking. It requires them to listen to each other. And Breakout EDU teaches our students to persevere. It requires them to shift their thinking when something doesn't work. It requires them to work past frustration and to build off the ideas of others.

Now, of course, we're not completely heartless. We intervene and redirect groups that are becoming toxic and derailing themselves. We don't want the struggle to become debilitating.

One of the most important things that we do at the end of every game is to reflect. Even if groups fail to breakout in the allotted time, we take the time to celebrate and recognize the things they did well. And we always take the time to ask them what they learned about the experience and how they'd use what they learned for next time. Almost always someone brings up the ideas of reading more carefully, of noticing, of listening, of working together, of trying different things.

And we always talk to our students about how all of the things they've learned are things that can be applied outside of Breakout EDU . . . in the classroom, during math or reading, at recess, at home. 

Because in the outside world, the struggle is very real.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Thinking Outside the Box: Breakout EDU and the library

Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, I'm always pushing the proverbial envelope, always challenging my students and teachers to explore new ideas. And I'm lucky enough to work with several brave souls who are willing to come along for the ride, even if they've got no idea what I'm getting them into.

And so goes the story of how Breakout EDU came to the library . . .

As a librarian, I want to provide my students with opportunities that encourage them to challenge their thinking, to take risks, and to provide them with experiences that allow them to apply information and explore their strengths in nontraditional ways. I'd heard about Breakout EDUs and knew it was something I wanted for my library and for my students.

Using my library budget, I purchased three kits from Breakout EDU. I figured since I was a novice at setting up a Breakout game, I'd better start with the experts. By purchasing kits directly from Breakout EDU, I was provided with all the materials I'd need, plus access to numerous games with all materials and set up instructions included.

It didn't take me long to find my first willing participant . . .

One of my 5th grade classes was participating in Global Read Aloud with the novel Pax. When I saw that there was a Breakout game for the book, I immediately approached the teacher to ask if she would be willing to let me use her students as guinea pigs. Despite the fact that she had no idea what I was asking of her, she graciously agreed, especially when I assured her that I would have everything set up and ready to go!

I dutifully printed the instructions, read them over carefully, and began to prepare the materials for the game. I must admit that I was intimidated by the locks. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to get them set and that I'd be dead in the water. But the worries were unnecessary. Breakout EDU provides a number of video tutorials that walk educators through each step of setting the locks.

With the locks set and materials prepared, I was ready for the big day!

The locks were set, ready for students to break out!

On the day of the game, I set up the library (as instructed via Breakout EDU) and welcomed our students. I gave them the most minimal of explanations of what they were doing, gave a quick tutorial of the locks (I wasn't sure how many of my students had actually explored locks before), and started the timer.

And then I watched.

Students gathered as a whole group to review the clues, often coming back together to share information.
Students often broke off into small groups to work through the various puzzles.
I watched as students took the challenge on. I watched as leaders emerged. Students stepped up to take charge of the various puzzles, while others helped or worked to communicate between the small groups that naturally formed. I watched students play to their strengths. Students who were good with words tackled the word puzzle, while students who were good with math tackled the math puzzle. I watched students work together. I watched students reread clues to each other. I watched students problem-solve. I watched students struggle. I watched students succeed.

Mrs. Hetzel's 5th graders broke out with 12:54 remaining!
For me, the whole experience affirmed the benefits of Breakout EDU. Students who struggled in regular academic tasks were able to find success in a variety of capacities during the game. Students were given an authentic opportunity to problem-solve, to work as a group and to persevere in the face of adversity, to work past frustration and rely upon others. Students had to communicate, students had to think, students had to work together as a group.

Was it perfect? Absolutely not. As with anything, there are always things to improve or tweak to make the experience even better. But ultimately, it was a wild success . . . My students learned to think outside the box.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Using Padlet to Support Personal Professional Development

I love learning.

I love sharing.

I love sharing what I'm learning.

The more learning and sharing (and brainstorming and innovating and growing) I can do, the better!

I'm constantly looking to improve. I'm never satisfied with the status quo. I use social media such as Twitter and Voxer to challenge myself, to learn and to improve my professional practices. But for me, there's still nothing quite like actually attending an educational conference. It's the environment. It's the social interactions. It's being face-to-face with other passionate educators who want nothing more than to improve themselves in order to improve the educational experience for their students.

As a Teacher Librarian, I attend conferences not only to further develop my own practices, but I am always on the lookout for resources and ideas that I can share and support with my students and staff to enhance their educational experiences. I attend conferences as much for them as I do for me.

So there's always the burning question: How can I share my experiences with those who weren't there with me?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Sometimes this sharing can be a difficult. Sometimes the learning centers around new practice or tool introduced in a session. Those are easy to attribute and share. But so many times, what I take away from conferences can be more about mindset, inspiration, connections, and/or new opportunities for my students, my staff and for my library. The learning I take away from a conference may not always be obvious and easily traceable. There are so many amazing ideas shared by amazing educators. The learning I'm doing is much more subtle.

All that being said, I realized that I wanted and needed to be much more intentional and transparent about sharing my learning with my administrators, colleagues, and even my students.

To this end, I decided to utilize one of my favorite new obsessions, Padlet. While attending two fantastic conferences in the last month: ITEC (Iowa Technology Education Connection) in Des Moines and NSLA (Nebraska School Library Association) in Omaha, I created the Padlets featured below as a way to share my learning with my administrators and colleagues. I not only shared these Padlets with my administrator and specific teachers via e-mail, I also shared the links and discussed my learning during recent leadership team meetings at my building. And because sharing is caring, I've shared these Padlets with several members of my PLN. Now I'm sharing them with you!

Made with Padlet
Made with Padlet

I'm obsessed with using Padlet with my students as a way to capture and share their ideas, but this was the first time I'd used it to capture my own. I love how visual Padlet is. I love that you can add text, pictures, links, videos, etc. I love the it succinctly and efficiently organizes my learning in a way that's easy to capture and share. And I loved that it allowed me to share with my colleagues and administration in a way that will allow them to engage with my learning too.

And as an added bonus, utilizing Padlet has allowed me to continue to reflect on my learning in a more meaningful way.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Making your PLN truly personal

Last April at the Iowa Association of School Librarian conference I had to pleasure of listening to Shannon Miller and Michelle Luhtala as they gave a Lightning Talk entitled "Friendspiration." In their sharing, they told the story of how their collaboration via social media blossomed into a true friendship that inspires both of them as professionals and individuals.

Being a librarian can sometimes be isolating. We are often singletons in our buildings, some are singletons in a whole district. We belong to everyone, and yet we belong to no one. 

Yet, there's hope! As technology continues to increase our access to information, so does it increase our access to each other. You hear about the power of being a connected educator, the opportunities it can provide for your students. We know it's important to build your Personal Learning Network (PLN) in order to continue to grow professionally.

But what about your personal growth?

I have been blessed to have my own stories of "friendspiration." There are members of my PLN who have truly become friends. These are the individuals I turn to when I have questions, when I need inspiration, when I need to vent. We leave each other inspirational messages, we lift each other up, we help each other out. We have truly become friends. But none of it would have happened without social media.

For me, Twitter has been a life-changer. I remember the first time I met one of my Twitter EduRockstars. It was at EdCampOmaha, and I awkwardly introduced myself to Nate Balcom, an amazing Elementary Integration Specialist from Grand Island, NE. We laugh now, but I do believe my first words were, "Hi, I'm Lynn. I follow you on Twitter." Since then, Nate has been someone who inspires me, who willingly embraces the crazy collaboration ideas I throw at him, and appreciates my random Dr. Who references.

Or take for instance another life-changing moment: The first time I ever met Cynthia Stogdill in person. Cynthia and I were both Teacher Librarians, graduates from the University of Nebraska-Omaha's program. We'd interacted a few times via Twitter chats. But it wasn't until NETA 2015 that we actually met in person. We hugged each other like we were old friends (disclaimer: I'm a hugger), and spent several hours brainstorming our big adventure together. It was because of this encounter that the Midwest Teacher Librarian Chat (#mwlibchat) was born! Cynthia is not only my partner-in-crime, but she's my sanity. She listens, she affirms, she guides, and she refocuses me. A lot.

The day Cynthia Stogdill and I meet and #mwlibchat was born!
Then there are my amazing fellow Iowa Teacher Librarians I met during ITEC in the fall of 2015. Alyssa Calhoun, Miranda KralSarah Staudt and I were strangers at the start of the conference, but we definitely left as friends. Although we are spread across the state, we've kept in touch via Twitter, we have a special group chat via the app Voxer, and we're planning a reunion. These ladies not only provide me with inspiration and ideas; we are always plotting shenanigans. But most importantly, they make me laugh!  

Sarah, Miranda, Alyssa and I are the IASL conference 
Most recently, my PLN become more personal when my good friend Stony Evans, a Teacher Librarian in Arkansas, and his lovely wife Cindy, also a Teacher Librarian, made a special stop in Omaha on their way home from a conference in Colorado. 

Stony and I had first met last fall during a Twitter chat. We immediately hit it off. We have since collaborated several times, not only connecting our students, but also connecting for some professional development for the Teacher Librarians in his district (descriptions of these collaborations can be found on Stony's blog). We use the app Voxer to touch base almost daily, chatting about everything from a brilliant idea to our shared adoration of Shannon Miller. Stony is one of the most inspirational individuals I know. His passion for our profession and his gift for story-telling are a winning combination.

Although Stony and I had never met in person, when he mentioned that he and Cindy were thinking about taking the scenic route back home, I immediately extended an invitation to visit. I was thrilled when they accepted. We spent the whole day touring the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo (my children served as our tour guides), chatting away as though we'd known each other for years. My husband and Stony even cooked up some collaboration ideas over dinner. The conversation never stopped, and the trip was over way too soon.

Stony, Cindy, and I after dinner at one of my favorite restaurants
I am forever changed because of the encounters with these individuals, amazing people I would have never met had it not been for social media. And because of social media, especially Twitter and Voxer, the distance is never a limitation for our "friendspiration." And I can only imagine what adventures the future may hold!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sharing a Love of Reading

As librarians, we know that there is no greater joy than helping our readers connect with that perfect book. But when we can empower students to share their reading experiences with others, it's "goosebumpy!"

While I try to encourage and empower all my students to share and celebrate their reading experiences, two of my 5th grade classes (and their teachers) wanted to take their sharing to another level. As their Teacher Librarian, I was more than happy to oblige!

Using Padlet, I am sharing the Thinglink and Animoto book recommendations my 5th graders created. These book recommendations were also shared via our library website and through our Library Google Classroom in order to engage as many readers as possible! Below this Padlet, I have included a description of each tool (and how we used it)!


One of my 5th grade classes utilized a site called Thinglink. Thinglink allows students (and teachers) to create interactive images and videos. Students (and teachers) start with a base image or video. Once the base image has been uploaded, creators add "Tags," or the interactive touch points. Information added to the images includes text or links to sites or videos. Finished Thinglinks can then be shared multiple ways, including shareable links or embedding in sites/blogs.

I utilized the free version of Thinglink Teacher. This allowed me to create student accounts. The process of creating classes and student accounts was fairly easy, but tutorial videos are always helpful. While I am able to view my students' creations, I am unable to collaborate in the editing of the Thinglinks.


Animoto is a web-based video production tool, allowing for professional-looking video creation. To begin, students (and teachers) pick a theme (there are a variety of free ones to choose from). Each theme comes with a selected song, but Animoto provides a robust music library if creators wish to change. Creators then add a variety of text and images to create their video. The text slides are limited to a total of 90 characters each and videos must have at least one image. Pacing and transitions are automatically generated during the production process, but various slides can be highlighted during creation to ensure ample focus time. A preview option also allows for editing during the creation process. Much like Thinglink, finished Animotos can be shared a variety of ways, including shareable links, downloading, and embedding.

As a teacher or librarian, you can apply for an educator account. If approved, you are provided with a code that allows you to create student accounts. Both you and your students can then create videos exceeding the 30 second limitation of the free version. Animoto does provide detailed instruction in how to create the student accounts. 

There are a multitude of ways to have students extend their reading experiences! These are just two that worked really well for my students and allowed them to create a reading experience that could be shared with others!

Originally published (by me) on the IASL Blog:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Titan Hill Library Benefits from Birthday Books!

Sydney Skokan, Titan Hill 2nd grader, donated 27 titles to the Titan Hill Library.

She has a history of giving.

When Sydney Skokan was 2 1/2 she donated her piggy bank to the Red Cross because workers took the time to talk to her and explain their role and why the Red Cross needs people to donate money.

When she was 7, Sydney donated over half of her birthday presents to the MOHM's Place Christmas event.

"It was not because she didn't want them. It was because she knew she did not need them. She loved the thought of the kids, who may not get anything on Christmas morning, waking up to some pretty awesome gifts under their tree," said Mindi Skokan, Sydney's mother. "She's had a passion for giving to those in need for as long as I can remember."

This year, for Sydney's 8th birthday, she decided to give back in a different way. Sydney told her mom that she wanted to donate something somewhere again. After careful consideration, she decided to donate to the Titan Hill Library.

When the birthday invitations went out, Sydney requested that instead of birthday presents, she wanted her guests to pick out books that they'd like to donate to the Titan Hill Library.

"I knew if kids were having trouble finding books, then if they donated the books they wanted to read, they could check them out here," Sydney said.

Sydney said that her favorite thing about the Titan Hill Library is all the books. Now thanks to Sydney's thoughtfulness, the Titan Hill Library has 27 more titles.

"To say that her dad and I are proud of her would be a true understatement. I hope this girl never loses her passion for giving and for always seeing the best in people," Mindi says.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How Our School Library Transforms Learning . . . And Learners

If you weren't already aware, it's School Library Appreciation Month.

This year's theme is School Libraries Transform Learning.

It seems like an obvious choice to those of us in the library world. It's what we do. Libraries empower learners. Yet there are still some who picture libraries of yesteryear, not quite sure what it is that happens in the library. They're unsure of how libraries have transformed and are transforming.

So I decided to ask some of my students to help tell our library's story. After all, it's their story to tell. In two different projects, I asked my students to share what it is that we do in the library and what impact it has on their learning. Here's some of their thoughts:

And this just a small sampling of the answers I received. But the message is loud and clear: What we do transforms learners.

Happy School Library Month!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What happened when we Found Poetry

I still have goosebumps. It was one of those magical experiences all teacher and librarians hope to have. Every students engaged. Authentic conversations. Inspired minds. 

And all because we'd "Found Poetry" in our library.

What is Found Poetry?

Found Poetry is a type of poetry created when words, phrases, or sometimes longer passages from published work are reworked into poetry.

I'd seen examples of Found Poetry before and I'd always wanted to try it with my students. And then my fellow Teacher Librarian friend, Nate Balcom, shared some examples of the Found Poetry he'd been creating.

Original Found Poetry created by Nate Balcom.

I decided to give it a try too. 

What did we do?

Found Poetry can take several forms. Although I'd seen examples of Book Spine Poetry before, but I had recently discarded several books in the library, so I decided to go with the Blackout Poetry option.

The concept is simple. Students are given a page of a book. Students then read through the page, lightly underlining words or phrases that stand out to them. Students then go back to reread the words or phrases they'd underlined, working them into a free verse poem. The parameters I gave students were simple:

  • You may only use the words on the page (you can't add), but words can be modified. Example: "sandstorm" could be used as either "sand" or "storm."
  • You must read the words in the order as they appear on the page (seems obvious, but when working with elementary students, it never hurts to state it anyway)
And I left the rest up to them.

And the results?

It was absolutely amazing. All day long, students spread out around the library, fully engaged, reading alone or in small groups. They were reading, conversing, creating. And they were hooked.

When you think about the concepts and skills a lesson like this reinforces--vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, collaboration, creative writing--it's incredible. But what happened during this lesson was more than just an application of concepts and skills. It was the passion, engagement, and excitement for literacy that made this lesson so special. 

And the icing on the cake? One of my 5th grade teachers asked if she could stay for the instructions because she's heard so much buzz about this activity all day long. After hearing the instructions, she willingly gave up her plan time to stay and participate too.

In the time since introducing this activity in the library, Found Poetry examples have continued to flow into the library. Students are excited about poetry. Students are excited to share what they've created with everyone who will listen. What more could a librarian ask for?

And now I'm excited to share some of them with you:
Found Poem created by Jaxton A.
Found Poem created by Kayla
Found Poem created by Lilly I.
"My Grandma" created by Avery H.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Joining the Open Educational Resources (OER) Conversation

You may or may not be aware of a national campaign with some intriguing implications for librarians.

Last October, the U.S. Department of Education launched the #GoOpen campaign, a national campaign encouraging school districts to use openly licensed educational resources (OER). Put rather simply, the idea behind this initiative is to encourage school districts to access the wealth of free (both financial and copyright) educational resources available to level the academic playing field. The Office of Educational Technology’s #GoOpen site quotes Acting Secretary John King, explaining: "Openly licensed educational resources can increase equity by providing all students, regardless of zip code, access to high quality learning materials that have the most up-to-date and relevant content.”

So what does OER look like?

There are a plethora of resources available online. OER materials include lesson plans, worksheets or handouts, media, and other support materials that may be used and, in some cases, modified freely and without concern of copyright violation.

There are a number of places to begin exploring OER. The benefit of using these portals is that the materials available are often searchable by subject or standard, which makes finding resources slightly less daunting. Here are a few to begin to explore:

So what does this mean for teacher librarians?

Librarians have always been a wealth of knowledge and have long been active supporters of curriculum. We are curators by nature. We collect resources. We guide and support. After February's #GoOpen Exchange, Joyce Valenza called for teacher librarians to lend their voices and help lead the charge in this endeavor. In her blog post (OER and you. The curation mandate), Valenza’s challenge is for us to "be ready and to take the lead in making sense of the content and resources that will be making their way into our schools in a big way" (Valenza, 2016).

In a time when budgets are constantly being cut, the #GoOpen and OER initiatives give librarians an amazing opportunity to leverage these free resources to support the learning in their schools.  

Although I’m still wrapping my brain around the plethora of resources and all the implications for my school’s future, I feel the amazing potential already. As standards and curriculum change, my teachers are always searching for additional resources. Directing my teachers to OER ensures that they have access to quality materials that they can ethically use.

Although Iowa has not yet committed to becoming a #GoOpen state, I encourage you to learn more about OER and #GoOpen. I encourage you to be prepared to lead the charge in your school.

Learn more:
Office of Educational Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Valenza, J. (2016, February 28). OER and you. The curation mandate. Retrieved from

*Note: This blog was originally written and published (by me) via the Iowa Association of School Librarians Blog: