Column: Talking Tech

Google Cultural Institute

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.13.26 PM.pngGoogle Cultural Institute includes art and artifacts from all over the world

Google Cultural Institute sprang from the Google Art Project – a proposal to digitize the world’s art collections by allowing online visitors to stroll through a virtual museum the same way you use Street View to visualize a journey. Since then, the project has expanded to include Historic Moments and World Wonders projects, using maps, photographs and more to explain and instruct.

Art Project
You can still take a virtual stroll through the Louvre, but Google has worked with museums to sort and categorize their collections, creating a searchable database where students and teachers can view artworks in high-resolution. Works are accompanied details and descriptions to explain their meaning and history (as I tell my students, just like those little plaques that hang next to the paintings in the museum) as well as give information for citations. Links take students back to the original source where they can find more details and download images if they want to make copies.

The technology allows students to zoom in for a closer look, examining the brushstrokes on a Van Gogh, or to find each dot on Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” If you got this close in real life, the alarms would go off.

Historic Moments
In this section Google and its partners have created online exhibits about “significant moments in human history…using documents, photos videos and in some cases personal accounts of events.” The project includes digital versions of existing exhibits as well as ones created and developed especially for the site, with partners ranging from the George C. Marshall Organization, to the Anne Frank House to the Computer History Museum.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.15.42 PM.pngThe Historic Moments section includes exhibits curated by museums

World Wonders
This project teams Google with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. bringing Google’s Street View technology to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. Visit a world heritage site, and you can take a virtual tour of the site, read an article describing it’s importance, and view related artworks and artifacts, collected from museums around the world. For example, the exhibit devoted to the Giza Necropolis will let you take a tour around the Sphinx, and then look at photographs of archeological digs in the LIFE Photo Collection.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.18.17 PM.pngThe Versailles entry lets you read about the palace and look at some of its art before taking a virtual walk through the gardens

How would you use it in class?

The original Google Art Project was clearly a boon to art educators. But by expanding beyond traditional art works, the Google Cultural Institute can be a valuable resource for a variety of teachers and subjects.

History teachers should find the site especially useful. Students can locate images and primary sources for research on the fall of the Berlin Wall or learn about the codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

The search functions can get even more specific: a student studying scientific innovations in Ancient China can comb the entire database, narrowing the search to  items from China in 1600 BCE to find an example of Bronze metalwork from the Sanzingdui Museum.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.20.36 PM.pngUse the search tools to help students find artifacts from a particular time and place they are studying.

And it’s not just for upper level research. Younger students researching volcanoes might browse through UNESCO’s Pompeii exhibit and look at relics from the ancient city while American History researchers take a virtual tour of the Liberty Bell.

Sixth grade students at H.C. Crittenden Middle School in Byram Hills have used the site for their year-long nation research, said librarian Barbara Bathelemes. While not all her students used the tool, those who did “loved it.”

Margaret Kane Schoen is a librarian at Newton South High School


Secondary School Column: The Makerspace Phenomenon

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping

from old ones. ~ John Maynard Keynes

Makerspaces are all the rage these days, and a hot professional development topic. I had the opportunity this past month to immerse myself in the world of makerspaces on two occasions: through attendance at Eric Sheninger’s “Makerspace” workshop at the “Leading Future Learning” Conference sponsored by EdTechTeacher and MassCUE on March 6th, and through hosting of a “Makerspace” workshop sponsored through MSLA’s southeast region at my own Sharon High School Library.

Our library is currently undergoing a renovation process toward a “Learning Commons” model. I am excited about creating a makerspace, and was anxious to learn more about what’s happening around the country.

I am a big fan of Eric Sheninger, former principal of New Milford HS and current K-12 Director of Technology & Innovation in Spotswood, NJ. His Makerspace presentation did not disappoint. Sheninger kicked off his presentation by highlighting the ways in which the maker movement is driving innovation in manufacturing, engineering, industrial design, hardware technology and education.

For those who may have missed this important new trend in the ed tech world, a makerspace is a defined as a physical place where students can create real-world products/projects using real-world tools. It is meant to be a shared workspace featuring innovative tools that are not typically available outside of school. Makerspaces at their ideal are inhabited by a community of student tinkerers, inventors, creators and “Do it Yourself-ers.”

These student tinkerers, at their best, are guided by natural inquiry and self-directed learning. Making can be tied to different content areas, though makerspaces themselves are informal in nature. Students use problem-solving and diagnostic skills to come up with creative solutions. Educators involved guide from the sidelines, encouraging independent learning and creativity.

Sheninger’s presentation included a solid list of helpful resources ranging from suggested makerspace items, to articles, books and website links to further knowledge.

On March 26th, Laura Gardner, the Southeast Director of MSLA, and I welcomed 28 fellow librarians to participate in a Makerspace workshop at Sharon High School. After introducing the topic and talking about what a makerspace looks and sounds like, we had an informative and lively Skype session with Diana Rendina, a middle school librarian in Tampa, Florida, who has created an amazing makerspace in her school library. After plenty of Q&A, we enjoyed a round table sharing session about what we were doing or planning to do in the makerspace realm. Paul Shiff, from Hub Technical, also shared about upcoming presentation possibilities at the Fall Conference, as well as grant opportunities.

Cathy Collins is the librarian at Sharon High School

2015 MSLA Conference Session Ah-Hah’s

Did you miss this year’s conference, or were there sessions you would like to have attended but you couldn’t be in two places at the same time? Well here’s some good news for you: a few generous members of the MSLA Board agreed to write up short blurbs on the real “ah hah!” moments from sessions they attended. This is by no means an exhaustive list — just enough to give you a flavor for a few of the sessions. For more detailed information on each session you can check out the conference program and handouts on the MSLA website.

Education by Design:  Connecting With the Mobile Generation with BiblioBoard
Presented by Carolyn Morris, BiblioBoard, Emily Tordo, Phillips Academy, and Tricia London, Avon Middle/High School
Ah-Hah’s contributed by Laura Gardner

  • You can catalog and include all your school’s yearbooks on BiblioBoard!
  • It’s possible to customize eBook holdings on BiblioBoard to restrict to elementary or elementary/middle school content
  • There are lots of primary sources already on BiblioBoard — even music!
  • The more teachers/librarians add content to BiblioBoard, the richer the content becomes
  • Some schools are using primary source materials from BiblioBoard instead of textbooks

Great Books for Teens
Presented by Terri Grief, McCracken County High School, Paducah, KY and President, AASL
Ah-Hah’s contributed by Anita Cellucci

Staying current with the latest teen books can be a challenge for us all and so anytime I can hear about best new books, I’m there!  Great Books for Teens took the edge off of the fact that I can’t read every book that is published, even if I would like to.   Terri gave recommendations for several genres. Look for her handout of the complete list on the MSLA website.

Fill your Students’ Toolboxes Using Creative Technology Applications and 20% time.
Presented by Christine Steinhauser Coolidge Middle School, Reading, MA
Ah-Hah’s contributed by Ellen Brandt

What if you gave students time during the school day to pursue their own interests, with mentoring and support from the librarian and technology specialist, and access to a variety of technologies and materials?

You end up with students who:

  • Discover new passions
  • Have pride of accomplishment
  • Become mentors for peers
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Practice conflict resolution
  • Learn to take risks

Chris and the ITS at Coolidge Middle School developed a new elective course for 8th graders: 20% time.

The class meets every other day throughout the year. Students work on a project of their choice*. They research, learn, experiment, create, share..and blog about their progress. Not all students reach the goals they set out to meet, but what is important is the skills, passions and confidence they gain along the way.

*Students fill out a proposal at the beginning of the year where they list their goals, resources and milestones. The teachers have project ideas and templates for those who are not yet ready to be completely independent.


Easy Does It! Tech Tips for Organizing Your Web Site

“Organization is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” ~ A.A. Milne

Organizing information is one of the things librarians do best. And where is it more needed than when designing a webpage? When I first began creating our school’s webpage, my attention was drawn to how I wanted it to look. Visions of colors and fonts and graphics danced in my head. I soon found that while those design elements are important, first I needed to think about making the website easy to navigate, informative and useful. The following organizational tools are easy and free and will give your website the structure it needs to be a successful educational resource.


As my webpage is the launching pad for most of the projects that my students are working on in the library, it is critical that students are able to easily locate the necessary resources. Instead of an endless series of links, the graphical interface of Symbaloo organizes information and makes it easy for students to click and be taken to the source they need. With Symbaloo students do not need to type in web addresses. You can create color-coded blocks and add graphics to organize the information for easy access.  As my students would say – “it is easy peasy, lemon squeezy.”


There is a free version of Symbaloo. You can sign up for your account at


Another way to visually organize information in an interesting way is by using Thinglink. You simply select a central topic then choose an image that represents this subject. For example, I used a bookshelf for my Thinglink on “How to Find a Just Right Book.” Next you add links – the links can be to webpages, videos, images or an interactive page like your library catalog. Once you’ve completed the Thinglink, you can embed it on your webpage. Users then click on the links to go to the different resources on the topic.


There is a free version of Thinglink. You can sign up for your account at

Organizing to Keep Students Safe Online

Filters can never be 100% effective so I am always concerned about how to keep students safe when they are online. I use the following two tools to increase control over student access.

Safe Search Kids

Safe Search Kids is a custom search engine created by Google. It uses their SafeSearch features but takes it a step further by including additional strict filtering to search more safely.


The link to use is You can also add a link to safely search images at

SafeShare TV

Although video is a powerful tool to use with students, too often the YouTube videos I want to use start and finish with an ad or links that are seldom what I want students to focus on. SafeShare TV is amazingly easy to use. It strips out these ads and links and leaves only the content you wish to share. Simply go to SafeShare.TV. Paste the link to the YouTube video you want to use and magically you receive a SafeSearch link.


The link to this tool is at

Posting Projects

We tell students all the time to “show, don’t tell.” Here are some ways to show student work not just describe it.  Not only is it motivating for students to see their projects online, it is a wonderful opportunity to showcase their great work to their parents, the community and the world! 


Create videos of student work and share them using Flowplayer. This video player allows you to embed student videos on your website. The free version is available at – click the button “Sign up for FREE account.”



Another way to show off original student work is by creating a flipbook. It is super simple to do but looks really impressive. First, save your student’s work as a pdf file then upload the file to Youblisher. In a very short time, you will receive a link to the book that you can post or incorporate into your Symbaloo page.


Go to for a free account.

Hit Counter

Now that you’ve loaded projects, added links and created videos, how do you know if anyone is using your site? One way to tell is to embed a hit counter. There are many different hit counters you can use. I incorporated the free hit counter from on my page. So far, we’ve recorded over 150,000 views of the page. A lot of hits for a small town! Using this counter is easy, simply sign up (your email address and URL are required), choose a style and click generate code. You will quickly and easily receive a counter code to use on your site.



Just the beginning

“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” – Bill Gates

Today having a web page is essential. Our site is often the first stop students make when they want to view content. We need to ensure that users don’t get lost as they navigate to and through our sites. Symbaloo, ThingLink, SafeShare TV, Flowplayer and Youblisher are powerful ways to structure web site content. Are there any changes you can make so that users can easily find the information they need?

Geri O’Reilly is the Library Media Specialist at the Dennett Elementary School in Plympton


Column: Talking Tech

In this issue’s tech column, we’ll be talking about two new content creation tools that can be used for both library promotion and for student work: Canva and Adobe Voice.

At Newton South High School we started using both of these internally this year to create promotional products and as teaching tools. But as we worked with them, we realized they would be great additions to students’ toolboxes as well.

In our district, the library and IT departments have been exploring the SAMR model developed by Ruben Puentedura for transforming learning using technology. This model examines whether a technology use substitutes, augments, modifies, or replaces an existing lesson or assignment. With Canva, a design tool, the  technology may simply be replacing the  traditional method of creating a poster, or augmenting to add collaboration. With Adobe Voice, students can create presentations that combine images, text, music and voice narration, which can be shared and saved for later review. This moves  even further down the line into modification of a traditional poster and speech assignment.


Adobe Voice is an iPad only app that allows users to create “explainer videos” – short slide-show recordings that combine images, icons, text, music, and voiceovers. The tool has a built-in search feature for Creative Commons licensed images, icons, and music, and also allows users to upload their own pictures. With voiceover recording, the tool easily allows you to create guides and presentations that can be replayed as needed. Adobe hosts the final product online, so the videos can be shared with a link, or embedded in a web site.

We tried the video out first to produce our freshman orientation. Typically, this included a long speech by the library staff going over all of the rules and regulations about the library. It was tiring for us to do repeatedly, and not that interesting for the students. Our Adobe Voice video seemed to keep their attention a bit longer, and because we’ve saved it online, we can use it again for new students or to remind students about the rules.

Once we saw how easy it was, we realized this would be a perfect tool to promote the library. We recently underwent a major renovation, and wanted to show the all that work off to the PTO and the district administration. Adobe Voice allowed us to create an easily shareable video that could be played for a variety of audiences without needing special software or someone to run a slideshow.

While we were working on this, one of our foreign language teachers approached us about a project where students record themselves giving a presentation in Spanish. We’d used other iPad apps in the past for this project, or just recorded a presentation using a videocamera. Adobe Voice seemed like a natural fit. Students were already familiar with the slideshow format, and adding the voice language recording would solve the language teacher’s need. The tool’s simplicity meant that students could focus on the point of the assignment – writing and speaking in a foreign language – instead of getting caught up in technology. The teacher then had the ability to review and assess the project on his or her own time, and the final work could be shown off as evidence for evaluation. The student also had a final project that can be saved, shared with parents or peers, or used in a digital portfolio of their schoolwork.

We’ve tried it out now with a few classes, and it’s been a big hit with students and teachers. After some revisions, we realized the most effective way to do this project is to have students plan their presentations in advance – creating a storyboard, finding images they want to use, and writing scripts. We used Google Drive to have students store their images, so they could simply be downloaded to the iPads on the day they came to produce their final project. Our blocks are about 50 minutes long, which has been sufficient to get the projects recorded, produced and uploaded.


Canva is a digital design tool that allows users to easily create digital graphics in a variety of layouts and formats. Again, we first started using this tool internally, to create posters and web graphics for our library.

For non-artistic types (like me!), the tool is a godsend. It has pre-made layouts that you can adjust, or create free form designs. The site is basically free – some design elements or images have a fee, but there are dozens of free choices. Once you’ve created an image you can share it via a link, or download it as an image file to display online or as a PDF for printing.

Canva has become our go-to tool for image presentation. We’ve used it to create graphic elements


for our web site and digital posters promoting our book club


and NaNoWriMo.


It’s great for printables as well: we used BlockPoster to turn small image files into large displays. We also combined a digital image with a QR code  and old DVD and cassette cases to create physical “books”


for our eBook collection, so we could include them in promotions and display them on shelves.


Once we started using this tool, we realized this would also be a natural for students. Several projects were going on where students were  being asked to create display posters. We shared the tool with students as an option, and created a page demonstrating Canva, and a short screencast showing students how to create larger posters from their finished project.

While Canva at first seemed like a simple substitution tool on the SAMR model, we realized it does offer some augmentation. Canva creations can be shared and edited by multiple students, aiding in collaboration. While students can collaborate on traditional posters, using the digital tool makes it easier for them to find time to do so, something the students appreciated.

Works Cited

Puentedura, Ruben R., Ph. D. SAMR: First Steps (n.d.): n. pag. Ruben R. Puentedura’s Weblog. Ruben R. Puentedura, 13 Nov. 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2014. <;.

Margaret Schoen is a librarian at Newton South High School

New Year’s Reflection

“Educational change is not constrained by lack of technology but a lack of sociological
imagination.”  — Diana Rhoten

As the new school year began and our high school library underwent a radical transformation in which outdated books were stripped from shelves and digital workstations were added, I found myself pausing to reconsider the role of technology in education, and how it might allow us to re-imagine and re-invent our current education system.

Truth be told, I’ve never been a “gadgets” kind of girl. Prior to day one of a Summer Himalayan trek with students from my Sharon district, I chose to leave the trekking poles behind. I wanted my hands free and unencumbered by the weight of extra objects so that I could more fully focus on the beauty of the surrounding mountains.

However, unbeknownst to me, the highest passes were snow-covered due to atypical weather patterns in the Hampta Pass region. This made for slippery slopes. I needed to re-think my plan. I grabbed hold of the hand of one of the local Indian guides, who spoke little English but understood well enough the distressed look on my face and smiled back to reassure me that his hand would be there throughout the duration of that challenging journey.

At a certain moment near the highest point of our trek, I lost my grip on his hand due to gravity, fell on my posterior and slid many feet down the mountain, luckily wounding only my pride. As I looked up toward my guide’s surprised face, and we both laughed with relief at the realization that I was okay, I felt a profound sense of gratitude for my new friend and his concern for my well-being. A trekking pole is no replacement for the touch of a human hand.

These days, it is all too easy to be side-swiped by the appeal of an ever-increasing array of educational gadgets, without giving thorough and deep consideration to their place in the overall scheme of things.

Technology is defined as “the use of science to invent things or solve problems,” and/or “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.”

As educators, how can we utilize technology to assist us in creating connections for young people, sparking their imagination, enabling collaboration, deep inquiry and practical problem-solving that relates to wider social, political and global concerns?

How can technology assist us as educators in helping our students navigate the slippery slopes beyond strictly fact-based learning toward enhanced critical thinking skills? These are questions worth pondering at the start of this new year.

Cathy Collins is the school librarian at Sharon High School