More Formats – a Good Thing

Archives of Prague Castle, via Erik Kwakkel’s tumblr

My son is going back to school (graduate school) and I asked him if he has to buy textbooks. Even though I am his mother and know better, I said something generic and inane about downloads and how to search for cheaper prices.

“I really want my textbooks in large print”, he said. “I spend too much time already in front of a screen, and the light bothers my eyes.”

I know that about him. He’s got a rare retinal disorder called achromatopsia, and although the lack of color vision is intriguing to people he meets, it’s the low acuity and photophobia that bother him more. I think even if he didn’t have extreme light-sensitivity, he probably still wouldn’t want to read on an ebook reader or iPad. He’s fast and he’d be hitting “next” every 3 seconds. He’ll be fine, he will advocate for himself and get giant comb-bound enlarged books for reading and weight-lifting (his HS chemistry text was 11″x 17″ and 2 inches thick times 8 volumes). It made me think, though, about how we shouldn’t assume we know what people want.

It also led to a good Twitter conversation, in which the question was raised about Print on Demand units in public libraries as possibly helpful for the visually impaired.

And it made me think about being more patient with people who don’t know a lot about formats, or the visually impaired, or reading preferences, or how libraries work, or why I am not “about to go all digital”. I really appreciate that kind of patience from people who answer my questions about unfamiliar topics.

So, I’m going to try harder to explain to mostly middle-class parents why Kindle Unlimited is not going to replace my library (with screenshots, especially of what passes for “good” books in their “Easy Reader” category). And I’m going to keep on buying several books each year in large print format. Regular readers don’t usually mind them, but they are so helpful for some with visual impairments or dyslexia, etc.


Digital Learning Day 2014

Sketchnoting with Elementary Students
We are exploring enhanced note taking and using drawing as part of any and all writing. Students gain from “doodling” their way to understanding and expression. Working this way, on paper and with apps, builds connections and enhances understanding of info graphics and visually-presented information. Our students will share via a Google + Hangout and we’ll be adding examples of student work to Amy Burvall’s G+ community called Sketchnote Scribes.

This is the description I submitted to the main site – more info coming soon!

Hoping to get some blogging helpers for my students

Here’s the email I sent to Madison House, University of Virginia’s student volunteer organization. I’ve got a big place in my heart for Madison House – they used to provide the skiers who helped my son in the local Skiing for the Blind events.

“Dear Madison House,
I’ve never done this before but I’d like to apply for some tech helpers. I fully understand that top priority is matching UVA tutors with individual students, but if you have extra volunteers, I’d love to have some regular online writing helpers for our Writers Share project in the library. It would involve working with individual students on editing, writing, coming up with ideas, working on writing fluency and learning some basic blogging skills.
I would be there with the group to help and guide the volunteers.
Thanks for considering my request, Melissa Techman”

Fingers crossed!UVA's Madison House

Failure – and Lunch with Two Young Friends


Not MY friends – I try not to be one of those elementary school people who calls every living being in the school “our friend”. These two 2nd graders are friends and I’m their school librarian.

We finally had school today after snow cancelled almost a whole week. It was a short day, with a two hour delay. After unloading cars, I came into the warm library (I love my library), took off coat, boots, gloves and hat and looked around to see 5 small leaks. Moan….find tubs to place on carpet… will supply you with anti-carpet rant (with Allergist quote re “cloaca of the modern building”) another time….

So, plowing though paperwork and processing and suddenly it was noon. I decided to walk down the hall and see if I could collect a small lunch group. After talking to a teacher recently about ways to challenge and connect with one of her students, I have been planning to include a 2nd grader or two in our Scratch lunch groups and Tech Helper lunch groups. She suggested a buddy that her student might like to include, so I asked the two boys, gave them a note for the cafeteria and went to get my lunch ready.

When the boys showed up, they were excited and didn’t notice all the tubs and drips! I told them to eat while I talked for a few minutes with the Building Services guy (AKA Mr. Roof) and showed him more leaks. Then I grabbed my laptop and told them I’d like to teach them to make screencasts. We talked about what screencasts are and they were a little hesitant – “What if I don’t have Quicktime at home?”, “What if I can’t remember all the steps?”. I reassured them that being a Tech Helper for me is optional and we have helpful 5th graders and how-to resources. I told them that I have a really bad memory but I don’t let that stop me! I love to try new things and fail; it’s a great way to learn.

Then I showed them how to open Quicktime, choose make a new screencast, check the tiny drop-down arrow to make sure the internal mic is on and then made a screencast in front of them – and got it wrong. I didn’t set it up to do it wrong, I just got confused and clicked record and stop recording too fast and my test video showed nothing. These second graders don’t know me as well as the 5th graders and I was secretly smiling at how they responded to my mistakes. I love to think aloud in front of students while I’m learning from what I do wrong. It’s kind of a sad commentary on education that experimenting comes off as “getting it wrong”.

Then I made another one, using the open tab in my browser, ad-libbing through the screencast and summarizing what I’d been reading. You can hear one student in the background deploring the word “failures” and you can hear the other one, right at the end: “Cool!”.

So this is a walk through a moment in my snowy Friday. The best moments at school today were with these students, talking to them about what they might do for me when they learn to make screencasts, and seeing their faces light up when they thought of some things they could make for themselves. The cool architectural engineering ideas happening on the website in the screencast? Icing on the cake.

Screencast for 99Failures

Parent Letter for ACPS2013 Coderdojo Sampler Session

Welcome to Coderdojo! Ms. Gutkowski and Ms. Techman

Thanks to our awesome 2013 teen volunteers!!


Scratch is an appealing easy way for children and teens to make 2-dimensional stories, comics, simple animations, or even games.

  • You can download the old Scratch at: Scroll down on this download page to see Scratch Cards – each one shows how to do a different thing.

Tuesday: HTML

We’ll use KompoZer, a visual html editor, to make a simple webpage and Codecademy

Khan Academy has uneven quality BUT the computer science tutorials are good:

Some other sites to look at:

Wednesday: Minecraft

Minecraft is a world-building game online. You’ll need to buy an account ($26.95) to play at home. Players in one room can make a LAN and interact with each other.              


Thursday: Kodu

Kodu is a 3D video game maker software. It is a PC only download

Some Kodu resources:

Email if you have questions:

Making My Library Friendly for Animal Books, part 2

Of course, this series of posts should really be called “Making the Animal Section Useful”!  My students are wondering if this is a lesson in how you have to “tear up” the library to put it back together in a new way. (yes)


Books everywhere during the move!

Pulling the animal shelving range out meant switching two shelving ranges, re-shelving the whole nonfiction section (Pollyanna Librarian – yay, a weeding opportunity!) and going home aching each day.


Getting ready to shift all the books.

4th and 5th grade helpers were a huge help. This is the time of year when my adult volunteers start to dry up, so it was great to have students pitch in. Books got new labels, clear label covers and then colored indicator label covers.


Habitat books waiting for green label covers. My collection is so small that it’s easy to spot and pull the habitats you need.

I did have a few moments of doubt about a few species. I put hippos in land animals even though my childhood safety lessons from Kenya included “Stay away from the vicious river-dwellers!”. The final arrangement will turn my whole animal section into a barely-classified browsing section, but that’s what I want.


Another example of a book about more than one animal. The + is the symbol for >1 species.


Making My Library Friendly for Animal Books, part 1

Books about animals are super popular at my library, but finding them has been hard and putting them back has been a pain. I decided to plan for a new shelving approach, in order to help my users.


Badgers and Marten books in between Seal books.

I’m leaving the Dewey number codes on the spines and will continue to add them to new books. Did you notice I don’t say “call numbers”? I’ve switched to saying “location codes”, because trying to tell a 2nd grader that “sometimes call numbers don’t have any numbers in them” makes me feel like the Sisyphean librarian!

My new plan is to add extra labels and colored label protectors to each book. I decided to have 3 main divisions: Land (green label covers), Water (blue label covers) and Birds (purple label covers). Within Land, I will also have a category called ALL – to hold books which contain many different species, as well as a category called HABITATS, and a category labeled BEHAVIORS. Within these categories, books can be put back on the shelf in any order (thanks to having a small collection).

Within LAND, the species will be in alphabetical order and now 4th and 5th graders (heck even some 2nd graders) will be able to re-shelve books. Any book which has more than one species will have the animal name and a big bold + to indicate more species. So, for example, books on big cats will either be labeled LIONS + or TIGERS +, according to which big cat predominates.


After all the labeling is finished, I’ll be ready to relocate and move the shelving range. The animal section will be perpendicular to the rest of the nonfiction, very close to the popular graphic novel shelving and with lots of space around it for browsers.


This picture was taken soon after I started – now the table is covered with piles!

Buying Craft Books – keep an eye on great adult titles!


Craft a Day by Sarah Goldschadt


My students are always looking for fun new craft books, and so am I! I’ve started noticing that the titles I find in the adult craft section are often just right for upper elementary and more rich and enticing than the standard 32 page juvenile fare.

For example, look at this sweet book from Sarah Goldschadt. Each week has a theme and the image is used in several different crafts: felt fox finger puppet, fox card, fox cupcake topper – you get the idea. Nothing looked too hard for my crafty crew and I bet it will inspire them to take some of their own drawings and try them out in different crafts : )

ImageCheck out the index. I’m seeing visual indexes like this a lot lately in craft books. It makes for a fun and easy finding tool. My students roll their eyes when I call the index their BFF = best finding friend, but they have to agree it’s a big help in any nonfiction book!

From an email conversation about public domain books, BYOD and more

Ongoing conversations in email with several librarians, admin…. One email mentioned a speaker who emphasized the need to make sure a teacher’s knowledge base doesn’t limit a child’s futures….Also, the suggestion comes up that we need to offer more public domain titles (nothing wrong with that, we’re lucky to have public domain titles!) but it’s complicated when you’re talking about young readers, hence my reply. PS Donate to the Internet Archive, they’re saving some real treasures!


Jack and the Giant Killer, courtesy Internet Archive

Public domain offers very little to most K-5 readers. In elementary, we all have a few fans of old and classic (and old and not classic), but for the most part, the public domain titles come from the era before books for young readers exploded in availability, diversity and popularity….

Here is where I get most of mine, to recommend to students, because the Internet Archive has some of the better illustration and format choices:
Hey, elementary librarians, notice the top 5 recent downloads and ask yourself how your fairy tales and Wizard of Oz titles are circulating compared to titles published in the last 5 years?
I love the Wizard of Oz series and enjoy a lot of the books in public domain, but when it comes to free choice reading and the interests of the MAJORITY of K-5 readers, classics and old titles will never be more than a small (if not tiny) part of our collections.

In secondary, any amount of choice will end up looking good, since many teachers’ ideas of  canonical lit titles is limited. That’s probably more true in HS – but please, sec lib’s, chime in! If you’re seeing the English teachers offer more choice in reading, I’d love to hear : )

As for what the speaker you heard said (…re not wanting his child’s learning to be limited to what the teacher already knows…), if my child’s teachers are reading widely and especially in current professional literature, they know a LOT! And have an eye on what’s changing, where the reader’s and publisher’s activities are headed… keyword IF. The more we as librarians can help teachers with information on many fronts, the better. The speaker you heard clearly has a stereotypical view of teachers, and his notion of someone whose knowledge base is frozen in the past insults the kind of teachers and librarians I admire.

The “which device” talk is rapidly going away, since so many offerings are aimed at every possible platform, but the need is to give our students lots of chances to read on a variety of devices and learn the key skills:
Finding what appeals to them,
Knowing where to look,
Evaluating informational text,
Maximizing their time and money…

So what hold us up from BYOD in K-5? Permission slips for parents? Getting clear with teachers about what it will look like? The equity issue? Or maybe I should say BYOD in gr 3 –5, since they’ve got more self-control and ability to keep up with their stuff? Anybody planning for BYOD this fall?

SXSWedu Presentation