buzzwords and buzz-bees

Meet bee-bot.


He’s a programmable robot that was made for (company’s words here) teaching “sequencing, estimation, problem-solving, and just having fun!” He’s smiley, he’s plastic, and he’s going to help kids engage in computational thinking. That’s right folks, this little guy can be used to teach coding to the early childhood set.

I could play buzzword BINGO with all of the trendy computer sciencey terms I’m used to hearing at conferences. (Makers – Fixers – Coding -Computational thinking – Innovation – Producers – Entrepreneurial thinking – FREE SPACE – Curation – Design theory – Current century – you get the idea!) People are excited about all of the constant changes in technology and new tools available, and why shouldn’t they be? They’re awesome!! But sometimes it’s hard to see where this all fits with library. I often wonder: Am I jumping on the buzzword bandwagon just because [insert term here] is hip and current (all of the associations I want my community members to have about the library)? Or is there a real inquiry/info. literacy/literature connection? To be honest, it’s probably a little bit of everything.

In my library classroom, the focus is always on my students and the learning goals for each and every activity. The goals might lead us to bee-bot, or Primo, or something else trendy and computer science-related. They might not. But boy, are we lucky to have options. The variety keeps students engaged and the learning authentic. And with this little bee-bot buzzer, I do see real library connections. Here are a few of my bee-bot ideas:

  • Read/hear a story like The Three Little Pigs. What would happen if Goldilocks arrived before the bears left home, or if she woke from her nap before they returned? Most stories have a sequence, and relating that to programming sequences of arrows on bee-bot (and experiencing the results) is a super simple analogy.
  • Create a bee-bot kit that patrons check out. Challenge children to complete problems or tasks that are suggested on index cards. Keep a traveling journal with the kit so students can reflect on their experiences and share what bee-bot did while he was away from the library.
  • Use bee-bot to introduce a unit as part of the anticipatory set for any content area. Place him on the ground, with unit-related artifacts close by. Challenge the kids to program bee-bot so that he will drive to the artifact they want to discuss.
  • Have children direct bee-bot to different responses (on a floor mat) as part of an assessment activity.
  • Children can write stories about bee-bot, and integrate movements into them so that other students can try to reproduce those movements when they read the choreographed stories.

…and this is just a quick brainstorm!

Now, I would love to tell you about how I dove in and got some of these ideas up-and-running in the last month, but while I was diving in, bee-bot dove to the floor. (Klutzy me dropped my first robot within 2 minutes of picking him up from our school’s technologist.) He broke before I got to try ANYTHING with students! Amid my disappointment and embarrassment, I learned a few lessons:

  1. My tech department is really understanding and supportive, more than I could ever have imagined.
  2. You will have problems if bee-bot falls head-first into the ground.
  3. The company (Terrapin) is really accessible, and will quickly respond to your emails. (Bee-bot did break, but we should have him up and rolling again sometime soon.)

I am trying not to be discouraged, because I know I will try again once our bee-bot is brought back to life. (Hopefully we’ll grow a colony in the coming months, too!) To be continued.


a mock caldecott

A Mock award program—particularly a Mock Caldecott—is not that new or different to most American librarians. I’ve facilitated them myself countless times with teachers, colleagues, and children in grades 4 and 5. But this year I was inspired to try it out with my younger students (sixty+ 2nd graders). Obviously I couldn’t recreate the exact experience for them-there were too many committee members to start! So, I put together a system that I felt would help them learn about the award, read a ton of interesting picture books, evaluate them critically using the criteria, and practice engaging in thoughtful and respectful deliberations.

So how did I do this? Answer: in small parts.

First, we spent a couple classes reading Caldecott winners of years past. In these discussions, we looked up information about the award and learned about its history and criteria. I unveiled kid-friendly criteria that each group examined after reading each title in order to see how books matched the criteria.



This criteria poster, as well as a Follett poster with every Caldecott Medal-winning book on it, stayed on the classroom wall during the course of the project. At this time, students also engaged in the visual thinking routine of tug of war to consider the fairness dilemma of no children serving on the committee. (My favorite responses on both sides of the argument: “It doesn’t make sense that no kids get to vote for an award for kids!!” and “Sometimes adults know what is best.“)

Next, I made a tournament-style bracket of books that I had vetted, and we had an assemblage of picture books not on the bracket available in an “also eligible” basket. Each class would read two finalists during each session and then discuss how each of those two books connected to the criteria. Students were given exit slips where they would vote between the two and provide reasoning for their vote. When kids finished their exit slips, they could check out books from the library or read the other picture books from the “also eligible” basket (including the books on the bracket that they didn’t get a chance to examine). At the second-to-last round, students voted for their write-in finalist. Children were given the option to vote for a book that they felt best met the criteria that wasn’t in the bracket or was outvoted in an earlier round. That book would be added to our group of finalists that we would ALL deliberate.

The last week, we had 4 books to discuss. Every class re-read the finalists. Students shared their opinions, asked questions, brainstormed together, and then they voted. The book with the most votes became our winner, and the 3 other titles became honors.Here’s what we had:



Many kids were sad about their favorites not winning, but all in all they supported the group’s decision, especially after so much time and effort had gone into the process. And because of how our voting worked, the 4 finalists were all student-approved and the criteria helped to explain how some books might have made it farther than others. The children also had something exciting to which they could look forward: the real Caldecott announcement!

When I returned from Philly, I showed the clip from the press conference to each class. I recorded the students’ reactions and asked them to be as specific as possible about what they thought and why. Their ideas blew me away. Even though the 2014 Caldecott Committee’s results weren’t identical to ours, the children knew the books that had won and they had strong, thoughtful opinions about how they think the committee did. They also started reading 2014 books right away in anticipation of next year.

The icing on the cake for us was that when our Mock Caldecott-winning illustrator Rebecca Dudley found out about our school-level results, she sent us a thank you package complete with a signed photograph and poster! To say that the children were thrilled would be a serious understatement.



So, moving into next year here are things I’m thinking about:

  • Rather than present books to children that are automatically eligible, I might display several eligible and non-eligible titles together and write post-its with facts to accompany each book. (For example, This book was published in France, This book was first printed in 2011, etc.) Allowing children to sort eligible and non-eligible titles will increase their understanding of eligibility. (I can also present this so that the books that are left over will be our finalists, so this will help students feel more ownership over the bracket list from which we start.)
  • I need to allow for children to campaign more for that write-in finalist spot. Perhaps kids could make short videos with their arguments (that could be watched by other kids on different days) or create posters to hang in the library supporting the book they’d like others to read and vote for as a finalist.
  • I’d like to do something larger to celebrate our winner, especially since we probably won’t be so lucky as to get a personal thank you from the illustrator every year! I might make the school-level announcement at an assembly where all of the kids can be together in the same room. We could also design a school-specific Mock Caldecott seal to stick on our library books. Children will take pride in having an impact on our collection in this way, and it will encourage students in other grades/classes to read those titles.
  • Deliberations were only shared within class groups, so there were groups that were swayed by strong arguments and other group conversations where those same arguments weren’t heard. I need to record student thoughts and post them on the wall of the classroom so that every child’s points can be considered even if deliberations can’t occur in the same time and place for the entire grade.


So, there’s lots to consider before we start this all up again for 2015.