Have yourself a bizarre little Christmas

The giraffe's own room

And now, it’s time to share the three wiki fables my group of gifted and talented Early Stage 1 (Kindergarten) students came up with this last term.

Inspired by last year’s four Core Values Fables (written by the previous Kindergarten cohort), we decided, as a group, to write some new jointly-constructed fables to focus upon our school motto: “Forward With Pride”. This became the moral for each fable. If you thought last year’s fables were a little out of left field, then this year‘s three (there were going to be four, but one was cannibalised and abandoned) are truly in “The Twilight Zone”.

ENTER, if you dare!

If you’d like to know how these stories evolved, there are annotations and scribed brainstorming sessions recorded on the wiki, too. For example:

Why did we use a wiki to write and publish our school fables?
* “We can show all people in the world and they’ll know how clever Penrith kids are.”
* “To tell children something, not just use books.”
* “Our families can look for the wiki on the Internet.”
* “We can be famous. And then more famous than Aesop.”
* “You can type quicker on a computer, and send it further, like even to another country or out into space.”
* “People we don’t know can see our work.”
* “So we can read the fables on the computer, even if we had no money to buy a book.”
* “You could use a wiki to keep a diary and write in it every day, and everyone could read it.”
* “We can write our fables using the computer and the Internet.”

What had we learned when we were finished?
* “With Google Images we can find lots of exciting pictures of animals.”
* “If something happens in the world, like an earthquake, we can warn people by the Internet to get into a safety zone.”
* “Sometimes people go to different countries and they can use the Internet to stay in touch.”
* “On the Internet we can learn about other countries, which have different people.”

What will we do next?
* “We should do more hot seat [drama activities].”
* “We could read more Aesop’s fables in books.”
* “Draw more pictures for the fables we’ve done.”
* “Show our [class] teachers and the whole class.”
* “Learn about more fables.”
* “Make books out of fables.”
* “Learn about other things to put on the wiki.”
* “Learn more about animals on the Internet [with Google Images], like when we found the pictures of peacocks and an emu and a rhino – and some pictures were of the rhinoceros beetle and the rhinoceros snake!”
* “Do smart things on the wiki so we can get smarter.”
* “Do it again, but this time with dinosaurs!”

Research in print

Announcing a new professional article by Ian McLean:

‘Research columns 1, 2009: Kindergarten weaves a wiki: the learners tell their stories’ in Scan 28(1) February 2009. (Forthcoming)

Early Stage 1 students at Penrith Public School used a wiki to create jointly-constructed fables, and share the final products (and the annotated learning journey) with their extended school community – and beyond. This research paper is introduced, and peer reviewed, by Dr Ross J Todd.

This article is scheduled for publication in the next issue of Scan, the NSW DET professional journal.

So where do I put these?

I think it was knowing that I still had a small amount of burgundy paint left that led to this series of brainstorms…

Desk end of library - final

The now-huge, clutter-free area behind the circulation desk (above) has been extremely liberating – and, secretly, we all knew there was simply way too much furniture in this library. I’ve never seen so many storage cupboards, most of them filled with stationery, display materials, boardgames (both complete and half empty), stacks of old encyclopedia volumes (for activities on alphabetical order) and so on. With a captains & prefects investiture due in the library a few days ago, I reluctantly wheeled a very heavy cupboard back from the area where morning tea was to be served, up to behind the circulation desk – and immediately realised that I knew how to make it look like it was supposed to be there!

You know all those really expensive picture books, and the pop-up books, and “The Jolly Postman”, with its easy-to-lose tiny letters and postcards, those new, edgy, shortlisted and/or award-winning books, such as Armin Greder’s “The island” and the dark-yet-essential themes of “Dust”, and all those controversial novels (the ones that come with warnings about only using with older students in sensitive, supportive ways, or with the assistance of the local indigenous representatives) that go totally ignored if kept spine-out on a crowded shelf in Teacher Reference, and either ruined or complained about if they are in the main collection or regular Reference! So onto this new benchtop surface, I added… single, front-out book stands and filled them like this:

Display books with woodgrain

With only hours to go before the parents, citizens, captains and prefects arrived for their morning tea in the library – in what would be, for many, the first glimpse of all my changes – I painted the wall segment behind those books with the very last of the burgundy paint. A spectacular effect, I think – a real stand-out, even from the far end of the library, and well worth some comparison photos:

Display books with burgundy

Very satisfying. And the books in the display have caught the attention of every person to approach Circulation in these last days of the school year.

By the way, I’m just loving the phrase, “Just back in”! The new signage, created in Word and laminated over bright yellow paper, denotes the box of yet-to-be-shelved books. The divided interior of each box has always provided compartments for pre-sorting. The idea of “Just back in” came courtesy of one of the schools in Kevin Hennah’s presentation on shoestring library makeovers, and when I first used the signage in the old library, it provided an immediate release of pent-up guilt. Suddenly, books didn’t have to be shelved (too) immediately, because the borrowers often perceive them as “Hot” titles and highly worthy of borrowing before anyone can actually re-shelve them! Thanks for lifting a load, Kevin, with just three little words, so much better than the dire “Returns”. Or “To be shelved”.

"Just back in!" returns boxes - Shoestring makeover

May the CPR be with you…


Of all the nights to have an extra staff meeting thrown into the mix! The staff at my school had to update our Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Care certification before the end of term and, of course, it fell on the same school night as the free teacher preview of “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination”.

The Lucasian gods must have been smiling upon me. It was explained that the order of the 24 of us doing the practical test on the CPR mannequins would be by lot. There were two examiners. What were my chances of getting away early enough to still attempt getting into the city in time? I was one of the last to select a number and it was… #2!

I was able to perform my test, then race for the train station. An express country train was due, so I ended up at the Powerhouse 30 minutes later, at only a few minutes past 6pm.

As I approached the museum, there was a wonderful photo opportunity: a pair of stormtroopers menacing people passing through the automatic doors. But the drinks were being served – and the (understandably) thirsty guards disappeared inside just as I raised my iPhone. Oh well.

The exhibition is excellent. Not only is it a great display of impressive props, costumes, robots and vehicles from the extensive “Star Wars” universe, but parallels have been drawn to modern-day science fact and speculative science theory-soon-to-be-fact-one-day. Advances in bionic limbs, robotics, hover vehicles, faster-than-light colony vessels, etc, were all represented, with many clever hands-on activities.

I had to admire the layout this time. The exhibit is on two levels – and its circuitous path took attendees through the “Star Wars” souvenir shop twice!

In the picture


The ISLA group of teacher librarians has posted some photos of the professional development day I was asked to speak at in Shellharbour last October. I was particularly chuffed by this line on their blog site:

“Many Illawarra teacher librarians are now busy planning and creating wikis thanks to the inspirational Ian McLean.”

I look forward to seeing what they get up to!

Ian draws the winning raffle (er, guessing competition) ticket. Also pictured, from left, are ISLA committee members, Margaret Cooper and Celia Owen. Click photo to see a larger version.

The crest of the wave?

gold adhesive letters

This $2.00 packet of metallic gold, adhesive letters (from a $2 shop, of course) provided inspiration for the past weekend’s project. I had decided that a version of our school badge – perhaps in three dimensions and in colours of white and burgundy ? – might be the most suitable design piece for the large blank, burgundy space above the windows of the library office, and a counter balance for the big “READ” sign in the far corner. When I saw these letters, I realised that “P E N R I T H” would actually be perfect scale to the photocopy of the school badge I’d enlarged to A3 earlier in the day.

Crest creation

On Saturday morning, I noticed that I’d left my A3 pattern at work/school, so out came the trusty ruler and pencil and I enlarged the small photocopy I did have.

I still had a spare Officeworks‘ plastic and cork “bulletin bar” (at $1.99), so I painted this burgundy and incorporated the shape so it would support the two main sections of shield and scroll, and might even give the illusion of a three-dimensional shaft section of the rocket which blasts off from our school badge (originally designed in the late 60s inspired by the 1969 NASA moon landing, I understand). The first version of the badge was in yellow and brown, the old school uniform colours, but it’s been red, white and blue for many years now, and simply black and white on letterheads, etc. I wasn’t changing the school colours here, but a rendition of the b/w badge using white and burgundy as the contrasting colours.

From Eckersley’s art supply store, I bought an A2 sheet of layered 5mm foamboard (@ $4.95), but I still have a lot, equivalent to A3 size, left over. These foamboards are more sturdy and resilient than cardboard, and come in numerous colours. I found a distinctively off-white variety, and a pure white one. Since the white lettering I’d been painting these past few weeks is lacquered, and isn’t really a stark white, the off-white foamboard seemed the best choice.


A Stanley knife was used to cut out the shapes I needed. The rocket became a cut-out hole, while the scroll had extra shapes to bring some parts into the foreground. The letters, plus two spare magnetic letters (ie. in the same font as the URL signage), were painted burgundy, lacquered with matt varnish, and glued into place. The school motto is a print-out from the computer. Essentially, the finished design is in four layers, and should cast some interesting little shadows.

My main concern was that it had to look classy, but it also had to be cheaper than a commissioned styrofoam sign from a professional signwriter.

Above window reno

This morning, I used nails to secure the three plastic strips to the wall. In case we ever get a new library built one day, I’m planning to take all my handiwork with me! Because the library’s closed for stocktake this week, there has been very few visitors and I’m anxious to show off my latest handiwork.

Desk end of library - final

The grey, soft-covered piping that emerges from the air-conditioner and connects to conduit is still giving me grief. I’m not game to paint it, in case the plastic-like material repels the paint. Maybe I’ll try wrapping it in burgundy ribbon? Happily, the ugly grey conduit disappears against the wall when covered in the burgundy paint.

The more we do to improve the look of this end of the school library, the more we reveal of the huge windows… and the mess beyond. My clerical assistant has been extremely busy removing my untidy “piles of stuff” from the tops of each vertical filing cabinet. Thanks Louise!

url above office window

Total cost of this makeover: Add another $8.94 to last week’s $39.96 and you’ll get $48.90. I think. 😉

The ABC of URLs

I’m at it again!

There has been considerable mulling going on. While collecting some exciting accolades, both in person and online, I’ve been considering how best to proceed: what bits of the library to work on next – and which will yield maximum returns for minimal outlay?

Considering advice from several people, I decided to splurge another $11.99, at Spotlight, on a second container of the burgundy Derivan Matisse background paint, and to extend the rich splash of colour across the top of the office windows (see below; top right of picture), covering up more of the ugly, varnished woodgrain panelling.
More burgundy

I didn’t end up getting a raw “Before” shot because, up until now, I’ve been avoiding taking this angle from so far back. An ugly piece of thin, grey conduit (leading from a non-functional air conditioner) had been intruding through the airspace, but I was brave yesterday… and I simply removed it. (Last year, an electrical specialist declared Air Conditioner #4 dead. He unhitched one end of the conduit – but some other helpful soul kept restoring the conduit, and/or attempting to switch on the machine.)

Kevin Hennah had suggested, at the recent conference on library design and redesign, that many libraries were now showcasing their URL (of the library’s Internet presence), when creating new signage, and I thought that the far right corner might be balanced with a large white version of the school crest?

Wandering through a local bargain shop yesterday, I found packets of 26 plastic magnetised letters of the alphabet – for only $2.50 a packet. To get sufficient “i”‘s, I required four packets. Two “j”‘s were forfeited to cut free some full stops for the URL. A spray can of white paint ($13.99) would cover the bright fluoro colours! (And I need some more strong glue, having splurted the last tube all over myself – it must have been faulty at the sealed end.)

But how to mount the letters? I found some long plastic-and-cork “bulletin bars” from Officeworks. At $1.99 each, these were a steal! I’ll be able to fasten the letters securely to two of these plastic bars, and only worry about nailing up the bars, not each individual letter.

Magnetic letters

Here’s a test of the white-undercoated plastic letters, spelling out the URL of our school library wiki site, lined up for fit on the two now-burgundy bulletin bars:
URL undercoat

Total cost of this makeover (so far): $39.96 (but lots of paint and little plastic letters left over). Watch this space!

Like… here:

slim url

Reinventing library nooks

For many years, my teacher-librarian predecessor and her clerical staff pondered over a better location for the “New Books” nook in our portable school library, but there really never seemed to be anywhere else that suggested itself. The existing corner is/was close to the main entrance, but too far from the Circulation Desk. It was also quite hidden by a bulky, free-standing, double-sided stand of shelving, currently chock full of Premier’s Reading Challenge (PRC) titles for the Stage 2 and Stage 3 students.

There was one viable alternative location, perhaps: outside the office (and Teacher Reference), but the adjacent exit door is one rarely used by students, and the sloping display shelves outside that room seemed more suited to showcasing new Teacher Reference resources.

The most frustrating thing with the old “New Books” section, at least as it occurred to me over the past two years, has been that the Early Stage 1 and Stage 1 students rarely ventured into “New Books” territory, despite many of these new books being gorgeous, new picture books, displayed cover out, and obviously aimed at their reading levels. Too often, newly acquired and processed titles in “New Books” have remainedin pristine condition weeks, sometimes months, after our volunteer covering parent placed them there, because they weren’t being touched! I’m sure there’s nothing worse than dusting “New Books” additions! Ideally, these beautiful, inviting books should have been leaping off the shelves, being wanded at the Circulation Desk, and into students’ library borrowing bags to leave room for the next batch of new books.


PRC, audio and new books nook
Before: The crowded old nook, trying (and failing) to focus on the PRC books, AND new books AND a listening post area, all at the same time. Icky clutter – and an OH&S trip hazard to boot! All paper signs on the window were removed on Day 1 of my renovations, of course.

PRC nook underway
Underway: The PRC nook awaits the arrival of a couch, some PRC books to go on display, and some new signage, of course. The coloured papers at left belong to a class Book Week display, plus a few library-themed famous quotations. Earmarked for removal/rethink.

Nook ready
Continuing: Shelves and display of books in place.

A few months ago, in a somewhat desperate attempt to bring a little more drawing power to the “New Books” corner, I introduced the listening post set, which was obtained free via bonus coupons from Scholastic Book Clubs. Well, it sounded like a wonderful idea! Moving some of the new titles aside, I showcased some (hardly used) audio books and music, on CD and audiocassette, from Teacher Reference. As there wasn’t really room for more than four bench seats in the nook, I plugged in only four of the eight headphone sets.

While moderately popular, the listening post has caused its own share of niggly problems, mainly concerned with students tripping over the leads (or tangling them all together), as they left the area at the end of lunchtime.

Last Friday afternoon, I had an epiphany! The solution to the display and OH&S concerns! I hope.

I began preparing a new area for “New Books” and the listening post set… between Fiction and Easy Fiction. This new area is equidistant from both main doors, essentially in the centre of the library. (Moving many of the sloping display shelves from the Stage 2 & 3 PRC area also means that there’ll be room left for a small comfy couch and cushions – an attractive retreat for ready PRC books at lunch breaks? I already even have a free couch on standby. It’s been on my front veranda at home since last January, while I pondered if I’d ever locate the exact, best place for it. I’ve even had two cute cushion covers to go on it, waiting in their original packing, since Easter!)

Fiction shelving
Before: Easy Fiction blurs into Fiction, distinguished only by tiny, alphabetised, shelf labels in pink or green, plus handmade lettering in little perspex picture frames.

Fiction shelving reno
Underway: The goal was to have some front-facing books separating the two areas! New signage to come!

Spines-out “Easy fiction” was shunted to the left, “Fiction” was shunted to the right, leaving a new, clear space to add some sloping shelves (cannibalised from a free-standing magazine rack that was never used. The regular shelves were then placed on the magazine rack. Now the PRC section can be expanded to fit the space.) There’s certainly lots more “face out” fiction on display now.

Fiction nook
Before: Another angle on the cramped Fiction sections.

New books and audio nook underway
Underway: A similar angle on the revamped Fiction section, now boasting heaps of “New Books” display space. Even the cat and dog library beanbags look happier! New signage to come.

And the answer to the question you’ve perhaps been mulling over?

Total cost of this renovation: Nil. (So far.)

An update to both of these nooks has been posted!

Bookmark my words

I was up and out of the house before 7.00am this morning, and did a detour past school, to drop off messages for my casual teacher replacement, so I could attend the Premier’s Reading Challenge presentation ceremony, an annual event.

This year, a new venue, Riverside Theatres at Parramatta, and a new Premier of NSW, Nathan Rees. Once again, we had glorious weather, and the lucky groups of students who were invited to attend had a great time rotating around various activity stands, meeting lots of Australian authors and the newly announced PRC “ambassadors”.

They tried something a bit different this year. Nathan Rees participated in a reading of a rollicking poem from Norman Lindsay’s “The magic pudding”, and Peter FitzSimons led a short panel discussion about favourite books. The student participants were so eloquent.

I was assigned to be minder/chaperone for author Frances Watts – a huge honour, since I’m a great admirer of the book she did with illustrator, David Legge: “Parsley Rabbit’s book about books”. Between denials to hopeful school students, many of whom assumed that I was David Legge (who at home trying to meet a deadline on their third book together), I was able to swap anecdotes with Frances about how her book is used in schools. She mentioned that many years of observing teacher-librarians introduce new books gave her the inspiration for the book.

What a coincidence that I wore my black and silver Superman jacket today; Frances was giving out bookmarks for her book, “Extraordinary Ernie & Marvellous Maud”, the story of two unlikely young superheroes. And, yes, the bookmark even has its own secret identity! Flip it over and make your own superhero domino mask!