Create an Amazing Low-Tech, No-Tech Makerspace (Demco Guest Blog)

I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to do a guest blog for Demco’s Ideas and Inspiration blog. It’s an absolute wonderful resource and there is an abundance of information about makerspaces and space design on this blog.

Most of you know that I am incredibly passionate about low-tech makerspaces and I am so happy to be able to share my passion in this post. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Unless you live under a rock or are completely off the grid when it comes to technology, you’re probably aware of the maker movement. However, if you need a refresher, I made an infographic. The maker movement is such an exciting time for students and teachers alike! Yet, while a part of you is excited, the other part of you is flooded with the reasons why you just can’t start a makerspace right now.


  • “I have no money.”
  • “I’m just not super comfortable with technology.”
  • “We don’t have devices at my school.”
  • “I don’t have the space.”
  • “I don’t have the schedule that allows me to teach the kids how to do the stuff.”

Read the entire blog post here

An Open Letter to MY Students

To the my students:

I know it’s summer and it’s cruel for me to make you read.

But I don’t care. Suck it up. Read it.

I’ve actually been writing this letter since the day I accepted a position at Hershey.


Because I knew I was going to leave sooner or later. I always do. I want to be everything and do everything. Therefore, I never plant myself in one place for too long. Perhaps it’s bravery, perhaps it’s cowardice. But it’s me. And after the 3rd job change before my 25th birthday, I knew it was how it was always going to be.

I was having a lot of fun and we were doing some incredible things in the library. My professional career was growing and expanding and I was speaking all over the country about our awesome library. I had a ton of other projects I was going to do this year. We were going to do some serious rearranging and expand the makerspace. I was going to teach makerspace classes during flex and we were going to have our own MakerFaire. The school administrators were awesome at supporting us and so were the parents. Best of all, the students (you guys) were great.

(Don’t let that go to your head. Only MOST of you were great. The rest of you were just okay.)

Note:  A part of me considered writing this letter as if I was absolutely positive I made the right choice. I considered emphasizing all of the benefits and perks of this new job. I considered repeatedly telling you how “excited I am for this marvelous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. If I make this new job seem “irresistable”, no one will question why I left, right? No one will think my decision was stupid, right?

But I decided to just be honest. I’m scared to death and I’m not sure I made the right choice.

So why did I leave?

Well…it’s hard to explain (even to myself)

Have you ever seen the show “Let’s Make a Deal”?

At the end of the show, anyone that has won a prize is given the opportunity to go for the “BIG DEAL”. These people have already won hundreds of dollars, electronics, or vacations. Why would they risk losing that – especially since they literally won it just minutes ago? (And if you’ve ever seen Let’s Make a Deal, these people could seriously be trading their car for a box of cereal).

But there is a chance that something bigger and better is hiding behind that curtain. There is a chance that it is a life-changing amount of money.

And yes – there is still the chance that it could be a box of cereal. And there is a chance that this new job is a box of cereal.

But if I didn’t see what was behind the curtain, I would forever ask myself “what if”?

By far this was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. And unlike the contestants on “Let’s Make a Deal”, I had more than 30 seconds to think it over (thank heaven). So I thought, talked with family, and talked with friends. One of my friends absolutely refused to give me her advice. No matter how many times or how many different ways I asked, she simply refused. And I hated that. But I get it now. I needed to make the decision on my own. I couldn’t do what most people thought I should do. I would always place the blame on them if things didn’t turn out the way I expected. Another friend asked me “what do you think will you regret more? Leaving or staying?”

Obviously you know my decision.

Unfortunately, I still don’t know what’s behind the “curtain” as I’m just officially starting my new position this week.

And I’m scared.

Terrified actually.

And it’s okay. Everything will be okay.



I may not be resolved in my decision for a long time (or ever), but eventually it will be okay.

So why the heck am I telling you this? Shouldn’t I just say, “Hey guys – you were great – read some books – peace” and be on my way? In my last piece of advice to you, I want you to know that it’s going to be okay.

I know two years isn’t a long time, but I hope it was long enough for you to learn how much I genuinely care about you. Teachers aren’t supposed to be “friends” with their students. But I did. I definitely considered some of you friends. I confided in some of you. I cried with some of you. And leaving Hershey means so much more than leaving a library job – it’s leaving a family of teachers and students that I loved (and still do).

So here I am – on this emotional rollercoaster.

P.S. IT’S THE WORST RIDE EVER. Perhaps you’ve ridden it before? Unfortunately, you’ll most definitely have to endure it again. And it will suck. Hard. (I promise)

But I want you to know that it’s going to be okay.

Middle school was one of the worst times in my life. Every memory I have of middle school is like a scene from a horror movie (with Lisa Frank everything, Trapper Keepers, and Hanson posters). You will question your identity. You will be miserable. You will have your heart broken. You will break someone elses heart. You will lose friends. You will make mistakes. You will fail. You will work really hard, and fail again. It will hurt.

They say people never change – that’s crap. People change. Including you.

I can promise you these things:

  1. You are not alone.
  2. You will feel alone.
  3. It will be okay.
  4. It will feel like it will never be okay.

I wish I could be there to support you on your rollercoaster rides. They will be scary. Terrifying. There will be tears.

But you don’t need to swallow your tears and put on a smile (see #1). It’s actually very therapeutic to explain how you’re feeling (hence this four page letter).

And despite the misery that is associated with middle school (and unfortunately, high school too), there is an abundance of joy that can be had if you just let it happen. So, in addition to all of those awful things I listed earlier, there will be instances of beauty. You will find your identity. You will fall in love. You will save someone. You will be the reason for someone’s smile. You will make friends. You will succeed. You will try again, and you will win. You will feel beautiful.

And when those things happen, savor it. Celebrate it. Celebrate the moments of others.

We live in a world flooded with ugly and mean. Please do not add to it. We certainly have enough. Surround yourself with people that make you happy.

Do me a favor and watch this video. It’s called “Wear Sunscreen”. Watch ALL of it. Look up the lyrics.

Be you.
Be amazing.
Be happy.
And when you’re not, just remember – it will be okay.

I love you,

Mrs. Heather M. Lister

ISTE 2016

I am so pumped to be headed to ISTE 2016 this year in Denver, Colorado. This will be the farthest west I’ve ever traveled and there is no conference more fun than ISTE. I have this huge list of people I want to reconnect with and an even longer list of people I want to meet face to face for the first time.

I’ve got a jam packed schedule at ISTE, but I’m hoping to squeeze a few fun things in there in addition to just “conference” things.

One of the first things I’m doing is heading out with my library rockstar peeps (Diana Rendina, Colleen Graves, Sherry Gick, and Elissa Malespina) to see SparkFun! And even better – we’re taking  a big red bus!

MackinVIA Love [Booth #3132]

What kind of conference would it be if I didn’t get the chance to share my love of MackinVIA? Stop by throughout the conference to hear from myself, Shannon Miller, Michelle Griffith, or Mesa Heise talk about the Transform Your Library Movement and how the FREE MackinVIA supports integrating digital tools into the curriculum.


Low-Tech, No-Tech Makerspace [Sunday 7:00-8:30 Lobby D, Table 32]


First up, I’m doing a poster session in Lobby D from 7:00-8:30 on Low-Tech, No-Tech Makerspaces. I was so amazed and honored to be listed in this School Library Journal article on “Hot Ticket Sessions” at ISTE 2016. At this session, you get lots of ideas for maker activities requiring little to no technology. If you’ve got trash (and somehow, schools have tons), you have maker resources.

ISTE Librarians Network Playground [Monday 8:00-11:30 Lobby D]

Next on the agenda is the ISTE Librarians Network Playground. I’m pumped to present on Google Cardboard because who doesn’t love VR? I’ll be bringing some traditional cardboard viewers and a few of the Viewmaster Viewers. I’ll also bring a few freebies I got from random giveaways. My session is at 9:30 and then I’ll be posting lots of love from ISTELIB

“Inclusive Library Spaces: Moving Beyond Accommodation” [Monday 2:30-3:30 Room 707]

Next is something I’m super excited for – my interactive lecture on Inclusive Library Spaces. I’m really hoping to stretch the minds of attendees and help librarians and educators rethink their spaces and resources. Too often we focus on the minimum or legal requirements when serving patrons, but we don’t do a lot things intentional to make the library more welcoming and inviting to all. This session is held in one of the flexible learning rooms and I’m really going to try and make this as participatory as possible! Come and share your ideas!

Creating a Makerspace in Middle Schools [Wednesday 11:45-12:45, Room 601 Table 2]

Yesterday, Chris Champion asked if I would co-present on starting a makerspace at the secondary level. Not too many details here, but we’re going to roll with it and undoubtedly, it will be epic.
I’m also super excited to see all of my friends at Buncee. If you haven’t checked out this tool, you need to find them in the exhibit hall. Granted, there are about 300 other companies I’m looking forward to connecting with, but Buncee is a little family of mine and I can’t wait to see them all again.
If you aren’t at ISTE, Craig Yen (and probably many others) will be Tweeting every single second on the #notatISTE16 on Twitter. There’s also a Google+ community.
Stay tuned for my reflections 🙂

Make It Happen: Delta Kappa Gamma Keynote

Today I had the incredible honor of giving the Keynote address at the Delta Kappa Gamma, Alpha Alpha State Pennsylvania Convention in beautiful State College, PA – home of Penn State.
This was my first Keynote and I was more nervous than I ever imagined I would be. There were only about 300 people in the audience, but I was terrified. Prior to my Keynote, I scanned the crowd and saw many faces I recognized – including a Superintendent from my previous district and some of the teachers I had in elementary school.
When I saw my elementary teachers – I wondered if they ever saw me becoming “something”. Even though high school, I just blended in. I wasn’t dumb, but I didn’t see the need to display my intellect in any further capacity than what was required of me.
I say that because, as a teacher, I find myself picking out students saying “oh, you’re going to be something some day – I just know it!” But what about all of those other kids. Those kids like me? I wonder if they’re more impressed because they never saw it coming. So while I’m smiling inside, I’m also keeping in mind the way that I “judge” students future based on their current lives.

Dear students – prove me wrong!

The Keynote was such an amazing experience and I can’t thank the organization enough for treating me like family.
Below are the slides from my Keynote.

I am also doing a workshop on Library as Learning Commons which you can find on my Presentations page.
Now go make something happen!

Extended Your Reach @ PSLA 2016

I just wrapped up an exciting weekend with some amazing Pennsylvania librarians at the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association annual conference. This conference is always held at the “sweetest place on Earth” – Hershey, Pennsylvania. Fortunately for me, this is also the town in which I teach, so I had very little traveling to do.

I currently serve on the Board of Directors for PSLA, so my conference began with a Board Meeting. Meanwhile, other attendees had the fortune of attending a pre-conference workshop learning about the new state evaluation system and how librarians can/should be evaluated. (There is so much debate on this topic and I’m still working out my personal opinion on the issue). So often teacher-librarians are pushed into professional development offerings that target classroom teachers, we sometimes get lost in the mix. And while we most certainly ARE teachers and a lot of the information is beneficial, it’s nice to have a dedicated professional development for our unique role. Many librarians look to PSLA to fulfill that need.

Thursday evening was the official kickoff. I got to present at the Tech Learning Lab with Mackin to chat about our new eBook consortium. (I am SO excited about this – more news to come soon).

The lovely @LibrarianLister and @MackinVIA presenting at #PSLA2016 Tech lab!

— PSLA_News (@PSLA_News) May 12, 2016

Then we headed to dinner and our keynote speaker, Richard Byrne. Richard spoke on “Leading Students in a Hyper Connected World” and he was kind enough to share his presentation on his blog, FreeTech4Teachers. Nothing is better than a speaker with a sense of humor. Particularly after a long day of learning.

He really had the crowd rolling when he shared this clip from The Office.

I had followed his blog prior to see him speak, and I’m confident he just gained a few hundred more after his keynote.

Friday morning was kicked off with the Awards Breakfast. This is one of my favorite events in the entire conference because I get to see so many hard working individuals be recognized.

Yay! @mschwander winning the Outstanding Individual School Library award! #PSLA2016
— Heather Lister (@LibrarianLister) May 13, 2016


Congrats @MrsJinthelib and the Wilson SD for winning Outstanding School Library Program Di…
— Heather Lister (@LibrarianLister) May 13, 2016


Way to go! #PSLA2016 Outstanding Administrator Award! Every librarian needs a supportive admin team.
— Heather Lister (@LibrarianLister) May 13, 2016


Outstanding Building Level Admin Award #PSLA2016 So many good words about libraries.
— Heather Lister (@LibrarianLister) May 13, 2016


PA Young Readers Choice winners! #PAYRC #PSLA2016
— Heather Lister (@LibrarianLister) May 13, 2016


We also heard from Jerry Spinelli and Alan Grantz who were PA Young Readers Choice recipients in 2015. (Soo awesome!!)
Great discussion w/ @AlanGratz & @JerrySpinelli1 about writing Holocaust books for young people #PSLA2016

— Phil Burrell (@pburrell) May 13, 2016

The best and worst part about conferences is choosing sessions. I love the ability to choose sessions that interest me, but find it SO frustrating when so many awesome sessions are occurring at the same time. PSLA 2016 was no exception. 

PSLA used this awesome tool called Sched to post the sessions online. You could create an account and make your own schedule. I love it! You can still see the schedule of events here. You can even upload session handouts straight to the app. I loved it.

I presented with some of my best friends (also colleagues) on Blended Professional Learning. You can see our slides here.

After the last session, I grabbed a bite to eat and geared up for the Unconference!

We did the Unconference “Learning Commons” style where we organized according to our interests. You can see the spreadsheet here. There was some amazing discussion on eBooks, makerspaces, coding! (Unconferences are another love/hate relationship. I want to be at EVERY table at the same time).

Along the way, librarian’s shared their “Library Wins” which was so empowering.

After the discussions, we moved to the Smackdown. During the Smackdown, librarians share their favorite tools or bring up a topic they’d like to discuss.

Saturday was an easy day with breakfast, our author keynote by Jacqueline Davies, and one final session.

The end of the conference is always bittersweet. You’re so exhausted so you’re happy, but you’re sad that you may not see some of these people for an entire YEAR! (What was life before social media?)

I am so happy to have been a part of the conference. I am also thankful that the conference ended on a Saturday giving me an entire Sunday to get re-energized for the week ahead.

As much as I love attending national conferences like ISTE, AASL, and FETC, there is so much power in your local organization. It’s like a little family. We support each other, we encourage each other, we console each other. I remember my very first time I attended PSLA – I was in my junior year as an undergrad. Since then, my family has grown tremendously with new librarians, but the old faces stay around – supporting, encouraging, and consoling. Regardless of whether they just retired or retired a decade ago – they’re love and passion for school libraries is contagious.

#psla2016 Tweets

Stop Thinking About Starting a Makerspace

I am so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do a guest blog post for Common Sense Media’s Graphite blog on makerspaces.

That’s awesome for two reasons.

1 – I love Graphite! Graphite is a tool that has an abundance of reviews and ratings for websites and apps. If you’re looking for a tool to accomplish a task, there are hundreds of collections published on every topic imaginable.

2 – I love Common Sense Media. As a middle school librarian I’m always looking for in-plain-English reviews of books. Particularly books with “questionable” topics. Common Sense Media reviews are done by both parents and students that have READ the book and provide specific examples. (I’ll post more about that soon)

I was allowed to write about anything connected to #makerspaces. This was difficult for me. How do I narrow that down? So I decided to shake things up a little bit.

I wrote a post on why you should STOP thinking about starting a makerspace.


Read all about it here.


Make Writing

I know I’m a little biased, but I think we have a pretty amazing makerspace. It’s getting bigger – and messier – every day and the kids are creating some incredible stuff. Until recently, the makerspace was pretty contained to the library. This certainly wasn’t to exclude maker activities from occurring elsewhere – it just happened.
While at one of our ELA planning meetings, we were discussing the lack of enthusiasm kids have for writer’s workshop. What was once a time for kids to express themselves creatively, was now a time that kids dreaded. How sad? I loved Writer’s Workshop as a kid. We had to fix this. They had tried creative prompts, incorporating movies and music, but they were still “bleh”.
As we were brainstorming, an 8th grade English teacher brought up the book “Make Writing” by Angela Stockman. Oddly enough, I had just finished reading my advanced readers copy since I’m a member of the Hack Learning VIP program. All of a sudden we both were sitting at the edge of our seats ready to do it!
The idea of Make Writing is so basic that it is genius (but doesn’t it always happen that way).
Think about it…

Writer’s Workshop is intended to give students a creative outlet.

Makerspaces are intended to give students a creative outlet.

Put them together and you have magic. 

Three easy steps:

Step 1: We reserved the LGI because we needed a large space. We put all three ELA classes together (approximately 75 students).

Step 2: We brainstormed all of the creative things we could have the students do. We made this Tackk to share the options with students.

Step 3: Sit back and watch 🙂

Below are some images from the fun. And it really was SO MUCH FUN! I’m not lying when I say that 8th grade BOYS were RUNNING to English class. Two days prior a fire alarm could’ve gone off and these boys wouldn’t run. They’d be far too worried about how much “swag” they have when exiting the building “like a boss”. (Seriously though)
















So what have I learned?

  • The “makerspace” isn’t really a “space” at all. It’s more of a culture and a mindset. In reality, what we call the “makerspace” is really just convenient access to the storage of everything.
  • The makerspace doesn’t have to be an extension activity or an add-on. There are so many ways that you can incorporate making into the curriculum. Advice: take the most boring topic you can think of and incorporate making.
  • Begin with “suggested” activities to get the creative juices flowing, but don’t limit their creativity to just those activities.
  • If assigning a grade, try to focus on the process and the planning rather than the final product. It’s important to stress that mistakes will happen and you only truly fail if you give up. Sometimes the greatest inventions occurred on accident.

Be sure to connect with the three teachers that made this all happen!



All About the sARndbox: An Augmented Reality Playground

Update: sARndbox “In Plain English” video

Our kiddos made their own video explaining the AR sandbox 🙂
I’ve been posting a lot on social media about our latest makerspace creation and so many people (okay, 2) have asked how we did it (and provided a lot of encouragement on the days I thought it might fail – thanks #TCEAtribe). Hopefully this blog post answers most of the questions. Once I go through all of our video footage (the kids took over 4 hours of footage), I’ll post some more videos on our process. As always, if you have any questions or need clarification, please just reach out to me at @LibrarianLister.
I wish I could say we came up with the idea, but we definitely didn’t. Oliver Kreylos, a computer scientist studying 3D scientific visualizations and computational geosciences at UC Davis designed and programmed the AR sandbox software. He made the software available as open source – YAY! – so we, and YOU can go grab it. #GoOpen. We first learned of these sandboxes at the Young Innovators Fair in Philadelphia this January. Myself and another teacher took a group of 20 very curious middle schoolers to this event over our Winter break. It was phenomenal.
Shortly after the Fair, we got asked to present something relating to makerspaces at the Taste of Hershey. The Taste of Hershey is our school’s foundation’s biggest fundraiser. A bunch of restaurants and businesses come together for a day of fun conversation and great food.
There are a lot of resources out there on Augmented Reality sandboxes. Of which, I understood none completely. If it weren’t for my genius, computer-programming and mechanically inclined students, I would truly have a box with sand.
This blog post is an attempt to put the many resources into plain English and I’ll provide links along the way so you can see more.


There are quite a few videos out there about the AR sandbox (trust me, we watched them all!) but this one does a great job of just answering the big “WHAT IS IT” question.


AR Sandbox uses a computer projector and a motion­ sensing input device (an Xbox Kinect) mounted above a box of sand. The Kinect detects the distance to the sand below, and a visualization ­­ an elevation model with contour lines (aka. a topographic map) and a color map assigned by elevation ­­ is cast from an overhead projector onto the surface of the sand. As the sand is moved, the Kinect perceives changes in the distance to the sand surface, and the projected colors and contour lines change accordingly. When an object (for example, a hand) is sensed at a particular height above the surface of the sand, virtual rain appears as a blue, shimmering visualization on the surface below. The water appears to flow down the slopes to lower surfaces.


Here are the must-have’s to create your own AR sandbox:
  • A sandbox that is a 4:3 ratio (this is so it matches the ratio of the projector). It’s not a big deal if your box is bigger than the 4:3 ratio, just know that your projection won’t fill the entire box. You can either build your sandbox out of wood (what we did) or find something to use as a makeshift sandbox (think dresser drawer or a plastic storage bin).
    • Ours was 32″ x 24″. In hindsight, I might have made it a little bigger but since we did a lot of transporting, I’m glad ours was smaller.
    • If building your sandbox out of wood (as we did), I’d recommend water sealing it or lining it with a plastic tarp of some sort. Ours is not a permanent fixture so we did neither.
    • TIPS: Your INTERIOR measurements are what’s important. So if you’re using 2″ thick wood for your sandbox walls, you’d want to factor that in when building the box.
  • Caulk to seal the inside of the sandbox. I guess this wasn’t super necessary but our kids liked using the caulk gun.
  • Sand that will cover your entire sandbox with at least 4″ of sand.
    • We used Play Sand from Home Depot and added a little bit of water when we did the demonstrations. This way we could do a bit more molding. We used 3, 50lb bags ($3.90 x 3 = $11.70)
    • Some places recommend white sand such as this kind from Sandtastic but its much more expensive ($31.99 x 6 = $191.94)
    • You can also use Moon Sand ($58.04 x 8 = $464.32) or Kinetic Sand ($49.99 x 14 = $699.86) if you want a crazy experience.
  • A computer with at least the following:
    • Running the 64bit version of Linux
    • At least an Intel i5 (preferrably an i7 processor) running at least 3GHz. The better the processor, the faster the Kinect can scan and simultaneous project what it’s rendering. Ours was about a 3 second delay because of our 5 year old i5. We found an i5 processor in an old computer in the technology “death room”.
    • 2 GB of RAM to run the software.
    • A hard drive with at least 20GB free for the installation of Linux and the software
    • A sweet graphics card. We used a GTX 950 ($177.99) but I would not go any lower than that. Ideally, go with the 980TI ($619.99) as it will look much more like the quality in the video above. We have a lot of students that build their own computers for fun. One of our students that was instrumental in building this had a 950 that we used.
  • A first generation xBox Kinect for the Xbox 360 (not the Xbox One!) A lot of kids have upgraded to Xbox One so we had several kids bring in their “extra” kinects.
  • A short throw projector. (Teachers: Think ceiling mounted projector for SMART board vs. the ones you’d set on a cart in the back of the classroom). Originally we used an old projector from the technology “death room” but the bulb died the day before the “show” (#storyofmylife). So much to the displeasure of my technology department, I stole the one from my library classroom. (#sorrynotsorry)
    • You’ll want a projector that has HDMI or DVI that way you can take full advantage of the graphics card. You can still use a projector that has a VGA component, but it will definitely cut back on the quality output.
  • Something the mount the projector and Kinect above the sandbox.
    • Your Kinect should be mounted at the same height as your box is wide. (Our box was 32″ wide, so we mounted the Kinect 32″ high)
  • A vacuum (see images below)
  • Mountain Dew, Italian Four Cheese CheezIts (“must haves” according to middle schoolers)
  • Camera to document everything
  • Patience.
  • Perseverance.

Basically, it will look like this.

Or, if you can’t read middle school, this:


Before we built the box, we built the computer. We tested the projection and 3D rendering by this very sophisticated prototype made out of masking tape (see above)
We stayed after school one evening to build the box. My husband cut the wood and did some pre-drilling. The rest was up to the kids. A few kids had never used a drill before. Boy were they ever stoked!! Once we had the box assembled, we needed to figure out the mount for the projector.
I was super nervous about this part because it needs to be perfect. Reading through some of the help forums, I knew we needed a way to make this super study, but also somewhat adjustable. Sorry but that was way above me. We left that evening with an “eh…let’s sleep on it” kind of feeling.
And then I got to school the next day and one of my students was waiting with this masterpiece:
Uh…yeah. I know, right? He took a fence post, attached one part of the projector mount to it. Then, he took a steel pipe and put it in adjustable camps to which he soldered another steel pipe so we could mount the Kinect.
I’m not sure what made me happier – the solution to our problem, or the look of accomplishment on Joey’s face ALL day. (Definitely the latter). 
The pictures above were taken before school actually started. The kids came by, saw Joey’s creation, and didn’t even go to their locker before they started putting it together.
Once we had everything set up, we put the box on an old laptop cart so that it was study and could house the
The last step was calibration and boy was that a task! We spent a solid 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon just doing the calibration. And we still didn’t perfect the water simulation piece. At 4:30 on Saturday, we went home praying that the thing would work tomorrow.
So on Sunday morning (raining, of course), I brought my Ford Ranger to school and packed up everything. I went to take the sandbox to my car and it wouldn’t fit through the door. SERIOUSLY?!
So we quickly moved it to a smaller cart (an old projector cart) and just prayed that it wouldn’t fall.
Eventually, we got it there.


The community response on the AR sandbox was overwhelmingly positive. People thought this was a project for gifted and they were so surprised to learn that this wasn’t a project at all, it was just a bunch of kids interested in learning more about this.

As I was editing this post, we received a phone call asking us to present at the Business Leaders Breakfast next week. I guess I’ll be dismantling that projector in my library again 🙂


  • This resource has some CAD blueprints of the AR Sandbox (in .dwg files)
  • As with every complex creation comes its own help forum. This was a life saver in our final moments.
  • This Facilitation Guide was meant for museums, but has a lot of great tips for teachers too.
I hope this helped some of you get an idea of what in the world I was posting about the past month.
This is our next project:
A game table made from a cheap IKEA end table and a Raspberry Pi.

Make a Classroom Library – of eBooks

Last year we began our eBook journey (and I never looked back). To date, we have about 150 carefully selected titles – both fiction and nonfiction and we’re adding a bunch more this month in preparation for our literature circles project. Most of the titles I purchase are student or teacher requests. They get used for the project, and then the just kind of…don’t.
But sure enough, every time I show a kid MackinVIA, I get comments like, “Whoa! I had no idea we had this!” or “Are you kidding!? That’s beast!” or “That’s legit”. (Middle school here…if you couldn’t tell).
And as they scroll through the titles I see them favoriting 5 more titles. It’s not a matter of kids loving VIA – they do. It’s a matter of keeping it at the front of their minds when they’re looking for a book. I guess it’s just ingrained in them to think physical book when they are looking for something to read.
I needed a way to remind kids about MackinVIA aside from the many times I’ve told them before. But I get it – they’re middle schoolers. When they come to the library and get to pick their seats, they’re totally engrossed in the boy that sat next to him rather than the awesomeness I’m telling them.

So – time to get creative!

In case you didn’t know, Mackin has these awesome FREE eBook shelf markers. You can get them made customized to your collection (with title and cover art) sent to you as a PDF or they can print them for you. We decided to print ours ourselves. We printed them on card stock and laminated them.

When I originally printed them, I had intended on using them as pictured above. I was hoping that kids would see the shelf marker for a book that was checked out and turn to the eBook without leaving disappointed.

It just didn’t work. The shelf markers were getting mistaken for bookmarks and the ones that weren’t taken were all over the floor. That ended quickly. The book the kid wanted was checked out and they would say, “It’s okay, I think my teacher has it in her classroom library.”

Then it hit me!

I was advertising eBooks in the wrong spot. The magic of ebooks is their convenience and portability. So I should make it as convenient as possible to access them.
Instead of disposing of our eBook shelf markers, we actually had 50 sets printed (yeah…7,500 eBook shelf markers). God bless my library aide and my library helpers for cutting and laminating them all. Oh, and hole-punching them. Why hole punch?
Because of THIS:
We put them on keyrings! And we’re giving them to every teacher in the building. It’s going to be EPIC! Kids can now “browse” our eBook collection without even having their device. Once they find a title they want, they simply scan the QR code and their directed straight to the book. BAM!
We also made this handy little poster for the teachers. They can hang it next to the eBook keyring or anywhere in their classroom. The QR code on this poster directs to our MackinVIA homepage.
Obviously I’m a little biased, but I think this is genius at it’s best.
I had genius like this once before. That is when I attached a shovel to my son’s power wheels. I really think I’m on to something with that one.
Want to get your hands on your eBooks shelf markers? Reach out to your Educational Sales Consultant. They’ll get the specs you want and send you over a PDF file of your shelf markers.
Looking for other ways to promote your eBooks? Check out Mackin’s resource page – they have a load of bookmarks, posters, flyers, table tents, stickers, etc. to promote your eBooks.

Resources for Black History Month

I would have liked to get this out sooner, but I was having an amazing time at TCEA. That may have been my favorite conference of all time. Granted, I don’t have many to compare it to…but I had a blast and learned a TON.
Anyway – Black History Month is upon us and here are some of my favorite resources. Although most of these are geared to the secondary level, there are some great discussion questions in most of these that can be used at all levels. These would also be great teacher-resources for elementary teachers. Have a favorite resource not listed here, please share!

Project C: Lessons from the American Civil Rights Movement

“Project C: Lessons from the American Civil Rights Movement” is a series of electronic field trips occurring throughout the Civil Rights fiftieth anniversary years of 2013-2015 that focus on the role of citizenship in a democracy through the study of historical events. The collection is available on PBS Learning Media. PBS LearningMedia is a FREE resource for teachers and students with some of the best educational content from NOVA, American Experience, Frontline and MANY more. Click here to learn more about PBS LearningMedia.

*ProjectC is also hosting a LIVE field trip on February 25th. Click here to sign up.

African American History Month from Library of Congress

It would be wrong for me to highlight only one or two resources from this MASSIVE collection. Not only does this collection pull from LOC, but it also pulls from the National Park Service, the National Archives, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. If you want to use one of these resources with your students, be sure to check that the interactive doesn’t operate on Flash (otherwise, you’ll have an iPad compatibility issue).

Scholastic Black History Month Collection

There are nearly 40 resources on this collection that range from 1st to 12th grade levels. Some focus on the Underground Railroad, some on the Civil Rights Movement, and some on School Integration.

National Geographic Underground Railroad Interactive

The Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom is a “choose your own journey” style online game that incorporates 3-D experiences as students make a series of choices that affect their journey. Played from a first-person perspective, the game immerses students in the action as they escape from a southern plantation and head north toward freedom. Along the route, students make key decisions that will lead them to one of several possible outcomes.” (from the NatGeo website). Make sure you check out the Educator Guide.

* Note, this is also available as an iOS app for $0.99

Newseum Making a Change Collection

You’ll need to create a free Newseum account before you can access most of the resources, but Newseum has some phenomenal content relating to the First Amendment, and in this case, Civil Rights. They just posted a new lesson called “What Don’t You Know About Civil Rights”. The great things about most of these lessons is that they’re typically available as a PDF download.
Looking for books on Black History Month? Check out this Pinterest Board I created with K-12 books.
Within each of these links are links to lots more resources. Hopefully you can find one that works great for your studies this month!