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.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Blogging Meme

Earlier in the year my twitter friend Marnel (@1MvdS) tagged me for this blogging meme.  I was particularly busy at the time but she reminded me about it today and I'm in the right mood so here goes:

The task includes:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you
  • List 11 bloggers
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all of the bloggers know they have been nominated.  Don't nominate a blogger who has nominated you

11 random facts about me

  1. When I am engrossed in a book my husband has learnt to call my name a few times and wait a few seconds while I return to the real world   
  2. I enjoy playing badminton
  3. Most of the things that make me busy at work are my own fault as I've had or seen a new idea and want to implement it
  4. My eldest son (12) has just grown bigger than me, by 3cm, and has taken to calling me "shorty"
  5. I can't have chocolate in the house or I will eat it - even the chocolate chips for baking
  6. I can juggle
  7. I enjoy blogging as it makes me reflect on what I am doing
  8. Next week I am going on my first school camp since I was a student and I am dying to try out archery
  9. I absolutely love PD
  10. I am going to be too timid to ask other bloggers to answer questions for this meme
  11. I don't like reading sad books.

My answers to Marnel's questions

1.  What inspires you?
People who are passionate about what they do.

2.  What are you reading now?
"Ophelia and the marvelous boy" by Karen Foxlee.  A fantasy children's novel that was mentioned on a blog at some point.

3.  If you weren't a teacher, what would you do?
OK, so the easy way out is to say librarian, as I'm not a teacher.  But I will be good and pretend the question is "If you weren't a librarian, what would you do?"  I think I would like to train people in how to use technology.

4.  If you could change something about the education system, what would it be?
I would make it easier for children with learning difficulties to get access to the help they need.

5.  When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper and mailed it?
I think several years ago a friend complained she didn't get interesting mail any more so I wrote her a letter.

6.  Android or iPad tablets? Why?
I have an iPad simply because I knew my school were looking at getting them so used that as an excuse to get one.

7.  What do you find hardest to teach your students?
That books go back on the shelves in the right place, the right way up and the right way round. Sigh.

8.  What will you be doing differently this year?
I am running my book club differently this year (see previous post) and really enjoying it.

9.  If you could be fluent in any other language what would it be and why did you choose this language?
I would choose Russian or something else really unexpected just so I could show off when I spoke in it :)

10.  What is your favourite way to waste time?
There are a few reality shows (Masterchef, Project Runway, The Voice) that I like watching when I am too tired to do anything meaningful.

11.  What is your life motto?
I am really not organised enough to have a life motto.

Because I'm recklessly avoiding the last two parts of this meme that is all for this post.  But here is a photo from July of last year, just to prove that it wasn't so long ago that I was taller than both of my boys.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Ninja Readers meet Star Wars

My Ninja Readers Book Club has started with smaller numbers than I had hoped but I am pleased with the more structured way I have planned our meetings and those who do come have been enjoying it.

I have been getting ideas from this book:

Burgess has pages of what he calls 'presentation hooks' which encourage you to think more carefully and creatively about how to capture students' attention and keep them engaged.

Here is what I have done for the first four weeks:

Week 1 - Talk about genre, hand out readers' notebooks, explain how challenges work (three weeks to read three books in one genre and earn a genre sticker).

Week 2 - Play Star Wars theme song and ask to guess first genre.  Book talk a few Sci-Fi books  and discuss what books students have already read in this genre.  Review how the readers' notebooks are working. Discuss books read.

Week 3 - Discuss books read.  Show a YouTube playlist of Sci-Fi book trailers.

Week 4 - Discuss books read.  Talk about abandoning books if they don't capture interest.  Give out first genre stickers.  Take suggestions for the new genre in Week 5.  Have students take an online quiz to find out which Star Wars character they would be (disturbingly we seem to have quite a few Darth Vaders, I was Yoda).

I have lots of ideas for presentation hooks for each of the genres we will be covering.  These hooks help me keep our meetings fresh and interesting and are a fun way to finish up after we have talked about what we are reading.  I'm also looking forward to the end of term when we will eat Ninjabread Men Cookies!