Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My Top 3 Blog Posts

I've been having a look at the stats for this blog, which I started almost three years ago.  If you've ever done any blogging you'll know that you can exist in a bit of a vacuum as people don't tend to comment much, so a look at the stats every now and again can be quite surprising.  For instance, my biggest audience is from the U.S., then New Zealand, France, Germany and Russia.  So, um, Hi, Gidday, Bonjour, Guten Tag, Zdravstvujtye! (I hope that last greeting is right, I had to Google it).

I thought I'd share a photo of the view from where I blog from - my bed!  As you can see I can watch my boys on the trampoline (but at the moment they're playing computer games). 

 Here's the inside shot. I am currently ignoring the pile of washing on my bed, but I have tipped it out of the basket so that is the first step done!

And now for my top three posts of all time:

#3 Unconferences, Twitter and ANZ 23 Mobile Things  

#2  PlayBuzz - Seriously cool tool for creating quizzes

#1  7 Steps to Creating a School Website

I am pleased that the school website post is popular.  I am still responsible for maintaining our school's website and I have managed to make weekly news updates to keep our home page fresh just as I had hoped I would.  In fact, that is why I started the 'Te Totara Times' (our school blog), as it allows me to have our students help me create content for our website to link to.

Thank you for reading my blog.  I am getting in to the swing of things now and hope to write even more posts in 2015.  As usual I have a large list of projects I want to start, I'll share that with you soon.  Have a Happy New Year!!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

'Tis the Season to be VERY Busy

It's that time of year when I'm counting down how many days I have left at school (nine) and trying to work out if I will get everything done.  At the same time I have my sons' end-of-year school events to attend.  My youngest has a leavers' dinner on Tuesday, he is Year 6 at my school and will be leaving me behind and going to intermediate.  That is going to take some getting used to, plus my eldest is finishing intermediate and moving on to high school (how did I get old enough to have a child at high school?!).

Here's a look at what I'll be doing over the next nine days at work:

  • Helping Esther run our shelf monitors' cupcake morning tea and our librarians' pizza lunch. 
  • Working out how much money I have left in my budget and spending it!  Yes, I still have money left, I'm paranoid about over-spending.
  • Summer holiday planning:
    • Checking with Barney, our caretaker, about whether he knows we'll be opening the library over summer again.
    • Making sure I change the due date for all lending to be 5 February (the last day of our first week back) and increase borrower limits.
    • Selecting and wrapping books for our mystery books promotion in preparation for our first afternoon of lending on the 23rd.
    • Liaising with Hamilton City Libraries about the nuts and bolts of running their Summer Reading Programme again.
  • I've managed to meet with our D.P. and ask about running library skills sessions in the library.  Now that I have the wonderful Esther to do all the book processing I finally have time to do this.  Our D.P. asked me to put together an email about my proposal to go to all the teachers.  That's on tonight's agenda.
  • Meeting with the teacher I have been working with on our school blog, the Te Totara Times.  We're going to review how the first year has gone and see what we can do better.  I might blog about this later (after at least nine school days!).
  • Meeting with our A.P. to show her the Sphero, oh, must go charge it up.  We've been given one, with the possibility of a set of ten, and I'd love to see how we can use it next year.
  • Speaking at our two Year 3/4 assemblies to ask for volunteers to be shelf monitors next year.
  • Attending the school assembly on Friday and giving out the library's awards for 'most active borrowers'.
  • Finishing a guideline for parents and students about how to use our new eBooks.
  • Sorting out what's happening with getting laptops and iPads to the new teachers starting next year.
  • Loading the final three sets of iPads onto Meraki.
  • Seeing if Barney can fit in attaching my Book Fridge* to the library wall, and typing up my FAQs for it.
Oh man, that's intimidating.  And I'm blogging instead of working now, but my excuse is that this list will help me remember everything (plus it is Sunday).  On the other hand, while there's masses of work on the list a lot of it is very interesting to me.  In fact most of it is there because I wanted to do it so I can hardly complain.  Panic attacks yes, complaining no. 

If you're finishing up at a school somewhere I hope that things go smoothly for you and you're not "cracking under stress" - the caption for this picture I found on Flickr!

*What do you mean you haven't heard of a Book Fridge?!  You'll just have to wait for my blog post (after at least nine school days!).

Sunday, 30 November 2014

A Simple Guide for Teachers: Using and Making QR Codes

Our principal approached me and asked what I thought the best way to have our students take an online survey on the school's iPads would be.  He'd already created the survey, he just needed everyone to be able to access the link.

For me this was a perfect opportunity to showcase how QR codes can be used to direct students to a particular website, without having to worry about them typing the URL in correctly.  We have included a free QR code reader app on all of the school's iPads, so all I had to do was generate a QR code that lead to the survey site, and a set of instructions for those teachers who hadn't used QR codes before.  I wanted to put information about generating your own codes in there too, in the hope that teachers would see how easy it is and feel confident giving it a go themselves.

Here is my instruction sheet:

Using QR Codes

A QR (Quick Response) Code is a square barcode

that can be captured with a school iPad using the I-nigma app.

A common use of a QR code is to use it to take you to a particular website.  If you open the I-nigma app and position the barcode above so it is in the red square, it will take you to our school website (make sure you have logged on to Watchguard).  

Making QR Codes

If you have websites that you want to share with your students then creating a QR code for them will allow the students to easily find the sites.  You can also create QR codes for short amounts of plain text, which can be used for all sorts of things e.g. a treasure hunt.  And when you really get the hang of it you can record short amounts of audio and link through to them.

To make your own QR codes you can use a QR code generator on your laptop, like  

QR code generator.png

Here is how to make your own QR code for a website in three simple steps!

  • Copy the website URL you want to use and paste it into the box
  • Click on the “Dynamic” circle (it makes the QR code easier to scan)
  • Click on “Download QR Code”

Then you will have a picture of your code that you can print or include in a document.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Why we moved to specified apps and centralised iPad management

Back in 2012 when we introduced iPads to the school we wanted to give the teachers the freedom to experiment with the iPads and download apps they thought might be useful.  All our teachers got a $50 iTunes card, set up their own Apple IDs, and had their iPads configured so if they downloaded an app on one iPad it automatically downloaded it to the other three.

It became clear, however, that this system wasn't ideal.  For one thing, volume purchasing was introduced a bit later but we couldn't really take advantage of the discounts because we didn't know what apps teachers had already purchased.  I ended up doing an app stocktake and found that across our school iPads we had over 600 different apps!

Here are some of the other issues we had:

  • Teachers were forgetting their Apple ID passwords and security questions and because they'd been set up personally there wasn't much I could do to help them.  Sometimes iPads had been passed on to new teachers without getting the security question details - for a while you didn't need them for purchasing apps then all of a sudden you did.  That caught us out.
  • Teachers were not discussing apps and sharing ideas much.  The huge range of apps across the school meant that you might not find someone else using the same ones as you.
  • Some teachers complained that it was difficult to find out which apps were the best ones to use.  They didn't have time to download and compare multiple apps.
  • There was no vetting system to assess whether teachers' app choices fitted the school's educational aims.
  • By paying for only one app per four iPads we weren't obeying Apple's terms and conditions and paying the developers properly for their work.  Once volume purchasing became available in New Zealand we had no excuses not to.
  • Some of the more expensive apps aimed at students with special needs had to be bought for a different iPad every year as the student changed teachers.

For these reasons it was decided that we would move to using school Apple IDs, a specified set of apps and a centralised iPad management system.  We have an App Request Form teachers can use if they have an app they particularly want to use.

We visited a couple of schools using different mobile device management systems to see them in action.  One system cost $30 per iPad to have managed, the other was free.  Ironically it was the free system, Meraki, that seemed to have more functionality.  I'll post about the process involved with moving to Meraki later.

I think you do lose the ease of teachers being able to explore and try new apps by going to specified apps and a centralised iPad management system.  However, here are the many benefits:

  • Having one set of apps that all the teachers in each year level has means that teachers don't have to worry about which apps to select.
  • Teachers can share ideas and support each other more easily.
  • Professional development can focus on apps everyone has.  
  • We can save money by using volume purchasing.
  • If teachers change Year levels they can simply swap iPads rather than having to buy all new apps.
  • The App Request Form allows apps to be assessed for educational suitability by senior management and checked to see if they duplicate an app we are already using.  
  • If we do decide to add an app we can use Meraki to easily push it out to all the iPads that need it.
  • We can deploy the more expensive apps needed by some students with special needs and then pull them back and push them to another iPad as they go through the school.
  • Students will be able to learn how to use an app in one class and then they can carry that knowledge through in the following years as it will still be being used.

Finally, as we move to introducing BYOD next year it means we can use Meraki to easily (I hope!) push out our specified apps to students' devices.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Genre Shelving - The students have their final say

It's a busy term for everyone but I thought it was important to follow up with our students about how they are finding the new genre shelving.  I did an initial survey back in March and wanted to see how they felt now that they've been using books shelved by genre for a few terms.  Coincidentally, despite growth in the school there have been some bugs going around and I ended up with exactly the same amount of Year 5/6 students to survey. 

In order to make it quick and make it happen I reduced the survey to just two questions.  Here are the results, compared with the same questions asked in March, prior to shelving by genre:

1. Do you find it easy to choose a book to read?

What a big difference in the number of students who find it hard to choose a book to read.  From 17% in March to 4% in November.  A drop of 13%.  I'm very excited by this!  I love that changing the way the books are shelved made it easier for book selection - this is exactly what I'd hoped for.

2.  Do you think shelving books by genre has made it easier for you to find books to read?

I think this graph shows that our students' expectations of how genre shelving would help them have been met.  97% of our students think that shelving by genre has made it easier for them to find books to read.  Again I'm very happy with this.

The feedback I've had from teachers has also been overwhelmingly positive and I am so pleased that we changed to this way of shelving.  I blogged about some of the challenges earlier (and covered them in a presentation) but I still think these are far outweighed by the benefits.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Moustache Potatoes Comic Club

On the recommendation of my Twitter friend @mrs_hyde I recently read a book called Boy Writers: Reclaiming their voices.  I loved this book.  As the mother of two boys who don't particularly enjoy writing I was fascinated by Ralph Fletcher's look at a writing classroom from a boy's perspective.  The book looks at the things that motivate boys to write.  It talks about the fact that some boys like to use violence in their stories, that they like zany or bathroom humour, and that they like to incorporate pictures in their stories.  We need to acknowledge these things in order to engage them.  

A few years ago I ran a comic club for a term (the Angry Pencils), mostly because I had a student who loved to make comic books and I wanted to give him more ideas.  I had a good turnout, and almost all of the club was boys, but I didn't continue with it as I had other projects to keep me busy.  After reading Boy Writers I decided that I should restart my comic club in order to try to reach some of our reluctant boy writers.

We now have sixteen Year 6 students in the club.  Seven are girls, which is a lot higher than the last time I ran it, but many have come from the Ninja Readers (our book club).  I am pleased that after the first week three more boys turned up, brought along by their friends (I must be doing something right!).

If you're interested in running your own comic club, I'll post what I've been doing every couple of weeks or so.  I'm not a cartoonist or artist myself so I'm using a lot of YouTube experts and books to inspire the kids.  We meet at morning tea so time is limited.  In a way I'm running a flipped model club because we watch a couple of YouTube clips and then I send the students away to practice and watch further clips if they want to by accessing the comic club page on the school website.

Here is what we've done so far:

Week One
  • Generated ideas for a name.  A vote ended in a tie between "Moustache Pencils" and "Potato Quest" and they combined the two to come up with "Moustache Potatoes".
  • Outlined a plan for the next few weeks.  In order to draw a good comic strip we need to have characters, so first up was learning how to draw a basic cartoon face.  In Week Two the plan was to learn to draw figures and then Week Three is moving on to comic strips.
  • Watched a video - Toontorials - Basic Cartoon Face 1.  I encourage the kids to draw while watching the videos I show.
  • Character ideas - I put up different eyes, ears, hair, mouths etc that I'd copied from drawing/comic books.  We talked about mixing and matching different features to come up with different characters.
  • Facial expressions - I put up a page with different expressions and we talked about using expressions to help make your characters come to life and act for you.
  • Website - I showed them the comic club page on the website with the extra videos on it and also the QR code that they could scan if they wanted to watch the videos on the library's iPads during lunch.  The extra videos on the website for Week One are "Toontorials - Basic Cartoon Face 2" and "How to draw 20 different emotions".
  • Books - I showed them some of the library's cartoon and drawing books and also pointed out that you can get good ideas from reading our graphic novels.

Week Two

Update:  I didn't manage to post about this every couple of weeks so here is the link to my other post about the Moustache Potatoes Comic Club.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

How to Create your own Digital Signage - For free

About a year ago my principal came to me and asked if there was some way we could put weekly notices for the school on our website and on the TV in the office.  Although we have now gone with a professional digital signage provider at that point we were interested in doing it with no cost.  I also wanted to make it easy for our team leaders to write up the notices for their team without too much involvement from me - I have better things to do!  Fortunately I had just been to an EduCamp and the way they use Google Presentations to let participants share ideas was fresh in my mind.  Even now, with our professional digital signage, we still use a Google Presentation as an easy way to collaboratively create the weekly notices.

Here is what they look like on our website:

This quickly became the third most popular page on our website (after our home page and newsletter page).  When we recently launched our school app we made sure it had a link to the weekly notices.

In case you are interested in doing something similar, here is how to set it up for yourself, and use it as digital signage (provided you have a TV that can either connect to a webpage or, as in our case, run a slideshow off a USB stick).

First, go into Google Drive and create a new Google Presentation.  Set up the themes how you want them and then share the page (button in top right-hand corner) with the people who will be creating it for you.  Make sure you give them all editing rights.  

At the beginning of each week I make a copy of the previous week's slides (File<Make a copy) and rename it e.g. "Term 4 Week 3 Notices".  Then I share the new slides with our team leaders and give them until the end of the week to fill in their slide.  To make it easier for me to work out whether they have done their slide or not I added the week number in the top right-hand part of the slides. The slide will show the previous week's number until it has been updated by the team leader.

At the end of the week I check that all the slides have been updated and then add them to our school website.  In order to do that I choose File<Publish to the web... and click on the Embed tab.  I change the slide size to custom and change the auto-advance slides to every 5 seconds.  The width I use for our website is 650 px.  I also tick "start slideshow as soon as the player loads" and "restart the slideshow after the last slide".  Then I hit "Publish" and "OK" and I copy the HTML code to embed on the weekly notices webpage.

In order to use the weekly notices slides on our office TV I had to turn them into jpg or png files.  Unfortunately Google hasn't made this as easy as it is in Powerpoint.  You need to click on each slide, one at a time, and then File<Download as<PNG image (.png) (or JPEG image (.jpg)).  Once I had all my images I put photos from around the school in between each one so the slideshow had a weekly notice, school photo, weekly notice, school photo etc.  Now that we have the professional digital signage I split the screen to show the weekly notices and photos at the same time.

Finally, I downloaded the images onto a USB stick and inserted that into our TV and chose the slideshow option in the menu.  The procedure probably varies from TV to TV so I'll leave it up to you to work out how to do that one.

And that's all there is to it.  Professional digital signage is not cheap, you have to buy specialist equipment to run it, one for each TV you want to use.  You can do almost the same thing for free (assuming you already have a TV) and it does look really good in the school office.  It is a nice way to showcase what is going on in the school for the week.  Hopefully I've covered everything you need to know.  I'm happy to answer questions if you get stuck.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Book Week Fun

We had a lot of fun with our recent Book Week.  We had three visiting authors, plus the Scholastic Book Fair and accompanying mouse, Geronimo Stilton.  It all culminated in a PJ day where everyone spent the day in extreme comfort.  It was tempting to have a nap actually, by then it had been a very busy week!

We did a couple of well-received displays, both of which were adapted from pictures I saved from a blog/Twitter/Pinterest...I admit my record-keeping has let me down in terms of identifying where they came from.  "Once upon a time...when we were younger" had photos of nearly all of our staff when they were at primary school along with a picture of their favourite book from back then.  It was a lot of work but I really enjoyed it when the photos came in.  Everyone was so cute!  And it turns out we have a lot of Famous Five fans.

Another display we did was a book recommendations tree.  Five well-behaved students from each class got to put their favourite book, along with their name and room, on a coloured post-it note.  At the end of Book Week I randomly picked some post-it notes and we gave those students books that Scholastic had given us for prizes.

My official job title is Library Manager/ICT Coordinator and the ICT side of my job is going to take over for the next six months or so.  I am excited by the challenges coming up - we are about to launch the school app, just ironing out a few kinks with the developer.  Next week we start to set up and trial Meraki, which is a mobile device management tool (I am the assistant, we have our IT consultant coming in thank goodness).  I am also going to be learning about our new digital signage system.  

I am lucky to have our library and resource assistant, Esther, to look after the day-to-day running of the library.  I do have a couple of library-related projects still on the agenda - implementing e-books and the building of our reading room next year.  My rather lofty plan for the room is for it to be the most interesting place in the whole school.  To do this I want to to have a theme for the room, with a giant mural that will make students go "wow" when they enter.  I will be talking with some of our senior students, who happen to be doing a building project at the moment, to see what ideas they have.  I have started a Pinterest board to keep my ideas together.  But how great would it be to have the reading room as the most desirable place in the school?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

#EdchatNZ Blogging Meme

On Saturday I attended the first ever #EdchatNZ conference in Auckland.  At the end of an extremely hectic Book Week I was a bit shattered but I'm glad I went.  

I was pleased to run into Justine Driver, who had written an interesting blog post on "Setting up iPads using VPP and Meraki".  We're about to do the same thing at my school so I'm interested in NZ experiences with it.  Justine tagged me to participate in the #EdchatNZ meme, so here goes:

If you get included in the blogging meme: copy/paste the questions and instructions into your own blog then fill out your own answers. Share on twitter tagging 5 friends.

1.  How did you attend the #Edchatnz Conference? (Face 2 Face, followed online or didn't)
I scanned the EdchatNZ hashtag on Friday as I was finishing off Book Week (which meant I got to attend school in my PJs).  I attended face to face on Saturday.

2.  How many others attended from your school or organisation?
None :(

3.  How many #Edchatnz challenges did you complete?
Until I saw Justine's blog post I didn't even know there were any!  I did retweet people a few times so I think I inadvertently completed one challenge.

4.  Who are 3 people that you connected with and what did you learn from them?
Terry Beech - he ran the Education Book Club session and I was so pleased to hear him confess that he only gets three-quarters of the way through non-fiction books.  I am the same!  Often I find they either run out of steam or I have another book which is demanding to be read.

Marianne Malmstrom - I attended her session "Follow the Learning: Multiplayer games and virtual worlds" and was blown away to find that I had actually already read about her work and watched clips about it.  And there she was in person!  All the way from the U.S.  Awesome!  She taught us that we need to step into our students' space to see what they are passionate about and then learn from them.

Lots of people from the Face to Face #edchatnz session.  We went around the room and as we said our Twitter handle there was a chorus of "ahhs" as people recognised them, which was funny and most satisfying.  I learned a few more Twitter names so followed a few more eager NZ educators.

5.  What session are you gutted that you missed?
There were many sessions that I would have liked to have gone to.  For sheer coolness it would have to have been 3D Printing with Chocolate.  But to a chocaholic like myself it may have been a dangerous move.

6.  Who is one person that you would like to have taken to #EdchatNZ and what key thing would they have learned? 
I would like to have taken any person from my school.  They would have learned that they have been missing out!

7.  Is there a person you didn’t get to meet/chat with (F2F/online) that you wished you had? Why?
I would have liked to have had a chance to chat with a number of people I did meet at the conference but didn't have time to talk with.  I love the opportunity to hear what other schools are up to.  Maybe next time.

8.  What is the next book you are going to read and why?
Well, I've come away with a large list of books to read because, you know, I am a librarian.  To start with I've got the book that was chosen for the #edubookchatnz - "Key competencies for the future".

Then I have the other books suggested during the Education Book Club session:
Boy writers (Annemarie Hyde)
The third teacher (several)

And the books on creativity suggested by Steve Mouldey:
Can computers keep secrets
A more beautiful question
Creative confidence

And the ones suggested by Karen Melhuish Spencer in her closing keynote:
It's complicated

And the one Justine Driver gave in answer to this meme question:
Who owns the learning

And I'm not sure where this one came from!:
When people matter most

Luckily most of these can be borrowed from the public library and some have holds on them so I won't get them all at once!

9.  What is one thing you plan to do to continue the Education Revolution you learnt about at #EdchatNZ?
I am going to promote Connected Educator Month to our staff and put in a plug for Twitter.

10.  Will you take a risk and hand your students a blank canvas?
I don't have my own students so I'll leave the blank canvas for their teachers.  Happy to support any risks though.

Who will I tag with this meme: 
Mmm, I suppose best practice here would be to check whether people have already been tagged...but if I do that this will never get done before I leave this morning and that was the plan.  So, I'm going to tag some of the new people I met:
Brie Jessen-Vaughan @DanceWellNZ
Jocelyn Hale @josshale
Jill Marsh @Jillymarsh3
Alexandra Krivanek @amkrivanek
Joanne Robson @eMPOWERedNZ

Monday, 30 June 2014

What I learned in Kerikeri

I've recently come back from a trip to Kerikeri.  I was invited up to do a workshop by SLANZA Te Tai Tokerau.  Actually, I ended up presenting on three topics because I gave them a few things to choose from and they chose them all!

This post is not about what I shared with them*, rather what I learned while I was there.  First off, I was wowed by how they promoted the event.  Julia, the librarian at Kerikeri High School, came up with this fabulous poster:

It was done on a site called Canva, which is worth having a look at.  Julia also taught me that vegan meals can taste delicious, when she invited me to a very scrummy dinner.  And lastly I got some great ideas from looking around her library, which hosted the event.  

I love the way these displays bring the online world into the physical environment.

I was impressed by how the event was set up.  Rather than sitting in rows of seats there were tables to sit around.  Jeannie, the National Library's Programme Adviser for Northland, made sure everyone at each table had introduced themselves to each other.  After each of my talks there was time built in for people to chat with each other about any thoughts they had and ideas they might like to implement in their libraries.  We also had time to hear from a public librarian who had interesting things to add to my talk on gamification.  

At the end of the event there was a raffle for books that had been donated by various committee members.  There were so many books that everyone who bought a ticket won at least one book, and I won three!  Best of all you got to go up and pick a book rather than be given one that might not be suitable.

As there was a committee meeting taking place after the event Jeannie and Julia had organised to bring soup so the committee could have some lunch.  They extended the offer of soup to everyone and this was a big hit.  A lot of people stayed and chatted, and it was a nice alternative to having everyone meet up at a cafe.

So, I got to see how a different SLANZA region ran an event, and I found that extremely worthwhile.  I will bring these ideas back to my own committee and see if we can use some of them.

I'd like to say a big thanks to Jeannie, Julia and everyone else I met at Kerikeri.  I had a wonderful time and they made me feel very welcome.

*But if you are interested in what I was presenting about, here is my virtual library tour and my talks on gamification and genrefication.

Friday, 16 May 2014

PlayBuzz - Seriously cool tool for creating quizzes

Which Percy Jackson character are you?  What faction from Divergent do you belong in?  Not only does PlayBuzz have some interesting quizzes for you to choose from, you also get to make your own.  How cool is that?!

I had been looking for a way to do the "What's Your Genre?" quiz I saw on Mrs. ReaderPants' blog.  She graciously invites everyone to use/modify her quiz to fit their needs.  I love the idea of the quiz but I had time constraints and younger students to contend with so I wanted to find a way to do the quiz electronically, with no manual adding up involved.  Enter PlayBuzz -

If you're interested in making your own quiz, here's how it's done.  First, click on the Create button.

PlayBuzz lets you create a definitive answer quiz, a two choices poll, a list or a personality quiz.  Hovering your cursor over the options will bring up a description and examples, like the panel on the right in the image below.

Before I started making the personality quiz I had already created a list of questions and answers to choose from, based on Mrs. Readerpants' quiz.  Something you should know early on is that with PlayBuzz you can only have eight possible results at the end.  I wanted to create a genre quiz for the ten genres of books I have in my library, so I ended up making two separate quizzes.  The bonus is that students get two different genres to look into.

Once you've clicked on the Create button for the personality quiz you will need to sign up, either via Facebook or with email.  The name that you register under will show when people do your quiz, so in my case I chose to sign up under our school name.

This screen will then appear:

The media you add next to the game name will be the image people see when they start your quiz.  I chose to upload a Wordle made up of the genres in my quiz.  

Under "Manage the Questionnaire's Results" click on "Add result" to add more results (answers) to your quiz (up to eight).

Scroll down to enter your first question.  You can add media (photo or YouTube clip) for the question itself, but I chose not to.  The default setting is for the answers to be text only, but you can change that by clicking on the image box (first arrow below).  Images have to be at least 190 x 178 and can be from file or from a URL.  I did a Google image search filtered by usage rights to find some photos to use.  PlayBuzz automatically inserts a photo attribution for you.  You need to be careful when selecting a photo to use because it will need to fit into a square box, so you end up cropping a fair bit. A couple of times I have been unable to use a URL for an image but it has worked if I download it.

To add more answers click on the "Add answer" square.

Next, you need to choose which results are associated with each answer.  For example, for the question "What would you most like to do on holiday?" I wanted those whose answer is "Go white water rafting on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe" to earn points towards the adventure genre.  I left the other possible answers at 0 (no association) and changed the adventure result to 2 (strongly associated).  You do have the option of entering a 1 for "normal" (a medium association) but I thought it might complicate things and give an extra weighting to certain genres.

Click on "Add question" and repeat the process until you have entered all your questions.

Click on the blue "Preview" button to see what the quiz looks like in action.  Then click on the blue "Publish Game" button when you are happy with the quiz.  You will get a message "Our editors will review your submission and decide whether to post it on within 48 hours".  To be honest I don't even know if my quizzes are published on the site.  What mattered to me was that the links were live and I could embed the quizzes on our website.  

You can edit after your quiz is published, which is good news if you spot an error.

I made a QR code so my students can scan it with our library iPads and have a go at the quizzes.  Originally I linked straight to the URL for each genre quiz, but I discovered that more games are listed after the quiz, some of which might not be appropriate for children.  Embedding on a website allows you to choose not to have recommendations for more games, share buttons or Facebook comments.

In the tradition of Mrs.Readerpants I invite you to use/modify the bits of my quizzes that I modified from hers.  Your quiz doesn't have to be about genre though, it could be about a specific book like the Percy Jackson and Divergent examples above.  You could even make it specific to your school somehow, I would love to see what you come up with.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Genre Shelving - the (almost) finished product

Original Plan

My original plan was to roll out new genres at the rate of one every three weeks until I finally had all ten set up at the end of 30 weeks or so.  There were a few problems with this plan.  First, as we processed new books it didn't make sense not to put them straight into their rightful genre, regardless of whether we had "launched" that genre or not.  This meant that there were a few books that had different stickers and my student librarians weren't sure what to do with them.  The main problem however was that it was taking too long and I wanted to see it happen sooner!

Revised Plan

In the last couple of weeks of term I decided to get stuff done!  I started walking past the shelves and picking out the books that had really obvious genres.  I took them home and stickered and taped them and then changed their genres on the catalogue.  By the last day I had done 738 of the 1300 fiction books and was ready to go.  On Tuesday  I went in and, with the aid of a few helpless children I roped in to my dastardly plan, we rearranged all the fiction shelves.  Here is what we did...

We removed all the books that had genre stickers and put 
them on the floor under their genre headings.

We put all the books currently without genre labels in one place 
(a very visual to-do list).

Then we put the books back on the shelves in their own genres.

We have two bays on either side of the main fiction wall.  These hold our humour and horror genres.  Fantasy is a big section and I left two empty bays underneath as I know there are more books to come. 

It took less than two hours to do the rearranging and I am really happy that we will start Term 2 with all the genres in their own sections.  I have decided to do a genre challenge where I challenge our older students to a) write down what genre their favourite book is in, b) read a book in that genre by a different author and c) read a book from a completely different genre.  If they complete the challenge within a month they get to go into the draw for prizes.  Hopefully that will encourage teachers to start a conversation about the different genres.

I'm also in the process of creating some online quizzes to do for a fun way to find out "What's my genre?".  I have found a cool new tool to use to make the quizzes and will be sharing that in my next post.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Genre Shelving - the pros and cons so far

First off, here are my lovely new science fiction and humour sections.  I don't think I'll have them next to each other permanently but it will do for now.  

And this week we launched the horror section and decorated it up a bit.

A comment on one of my earlier posts on genre-fication made me realise I hadn't listed the ten genres I chose for our library.  So here you go: fantasy, science fiction, adventure, mystery, humour, animals, historical fiction, realistic fiction, horror and sport.  I think if you have fantasy and realistic fiction as genres then you are never going to be without a genre for a book to go into.

And now on to the things I've discovered about the project so far:


  • I LOVE the stats I can get on each of the genres.  By making each genre a "collection" in my catalogue I am able to run statistics showing me each genre's most popular books.  It makes it far easier, for example, to find the most popular horror books when my normal fiction statistics would be dominated by humour books.  
  • I can also see how many books I have in each genre and how many are issued at any one time.  This will be really helpful for my purchasing decisions.
  • Each launch of a new genre section gives it prominence and promotes discussion among students and teachers.
  • It has tied in nicely with my book club, as we have a challenge to read three books from each genre as it is launched.


  • The biggest problem is finding a genre for each book when some books don't fit nicely into just one.  I know some schools use multiple genres but I prefer to keep it simple (for the students, but not for me!).
  • For each book that we already own I have to choose a genre for it, scan the book, change the book's collection to the right genre, and tape a genre sticker to the spine of the book.  This takes a lot of time, even if the taping can be done by parent helpers and I can change the genre on batches of books at the same time.
  • I want it done FASTER!  I want it finished but I don't have the time for it to happen any sooner.
So, the pros outweigh the cons, which is good because there is still a lot of work to be done. 

In terms of dealing with the problem of deciding on one genre for each book I have a system of sorts.  Some books are easy to categorise, either because I have read them or because the title says "Things that go bump in the night" or the blurb talks about "Jane enters a tennis tournament, can she win?".  For the more difficult books I check the subject headings and also have a look on GoodReads.  The genres other people have assigned to a book can be helpful.  I do find though, that not everyone is shelving using the same genres and people seem to get sci fi and fantasy confused (or maybe they don't use a sci fi category), so I don't necessarily pick the most popular shelf.

The hardest book to pick a genre for so far?  The Apothecary by Maile Meloy.  Set in 1952 it includes magical transformations, espionage and a race to stop a hydrogen bomb.  Subject headings include "Magic - Fiction", "Adventure Stories" and  "Historical Fiction". Goodreads members have listed it as fantasy, historical fiction, adventure and mystery.  With so many possible genres to choose from it did my head in, and eventually I chose adventure, only because it didn't seem right to put it in historical fiction when there were strong elements of fantasy, or to put it fantasy when there were so many historical touches.  This is where "didn't seem right" and personal gut feeling has to come in and I agree that it doesn't seem as clear as it should be but I still think the end result is worth it.  In fact, I will probably take some fantasy books home to tape over the holidays just to hurry the process along a bit.  Patience not being one of my virtues.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Genre Shelving - The students have their say

With our science fiction and humour books now sporting snazzy spine labels, but still shelved A-Z, I thought it was time to survey the students about whether they thought shelving by genre was a good idea.  I talked with our six Yr5/6 classes (172 students) and then gave them a very short questionnaire.

Off to a good start!  Interestingly four of the five who said "no" mentioned issues with understanding books.

I wish my book recommendation powers were greater but this result reflects how little time I get with classes in the library.  The power of the series reigns supreme but the interesting results for me were those for author and genre.  Even with our fiction collection currently shelved A-Z, so that authors are readily found, selecting by author ranked around the same as selecting by genre.  I will be doing another survey later in the year and it will be interesting to see the impact of shelving by genre on these figures.

17% of our students reported that they didn't find it easy to choose a book to read.  The main reason given was that there were "too many books". 

So there you go - overwhelming support for shelving by genre.  I told the students that if they wanted it I would do it, so on Monday morning I will make the changes and give science fiction and humour their own sections.  We will continue to shelve most of the fiction A-Z and every three weeks we will add a new genre.  This makes it manageable for me, although I must admit I wish I could do it all sooner.