Coding in the Library?

Coding in the Library? was a blog post originally shared by Liliana Alonzo, the Steiner Ranch Elementary Librarian in Leander ISD in April 2017.

Three years ago I plunged into the profession of school librarianship. The experience was similar to my first year as a teacher. There was much for me to learn about librarianship today not taught in graduate school. One such fun surprise was that librarians are encouraged to promote learning computer science through their participation in the global Hour of Code event each year.

When I was in school the only computer instruction offered was how to use a computer to create documents such as memos, letters and resumes. No one ever encouraged me to become a computer programmer. It was a profession that I did not even consider. Computer science was not promoted at my schools growing up in the Texas border town of Laredo. My first meaningful experience with a computer occurred when I was in high school and my family bought our first computer. I started “surfing the net” regularly via the now obsolete dial-up modem. I did not have the foresight then to know how integral this technology or the devices which enabled access to it would become in our daily lives. The professional possibilities that learning computer science created were not yet known to me.

It has not been until recently, after participating in our 3rd annual Hour of Code, that I asked myself an important question. I have been telling my students they can learn computer science and have a well paying job in the future but can I show them that it is really learnable? Could I prove that someone like me with an art background, history of Bunsen burns in Chemistry and a B-average in Geometry can walk the walk and not just talk the talk?

So when an email promoting a scholarship opportunity offered by Birchbox and the Flatiron School in NYC popped up in my inbox I immediately applied. It must be a sign I thought. Lo and behold I received the scholarship and was now a student in a full-stack web developer program. When I shared my news with my students they were so happy and congratulatory.

Honestly, the program has been hard. When I say hard, I don’t mean just hard. I mean the-hardest-thing-mentally-I-have-ever-done-in-my-life hard. It can be frustrating and I will even admit that I cried once when I got stuck on an Object Orientation lab for 4 days. But, I felt better when one of the female experts told me she had to take a month off after completing the same lab because the level of difficulty and lack of progress was immensely discouraging.

The best advice I have received is that no matter how hard it gets, just stick with it and don’t give up. Anything worth learning can be challenging at times. If it was easy we’d have more skilled programmers and fewer vacant positions. I have to tell myself to keep pushing forward. It will get easier as I learn more and improve my problem solving skills.

Initially, I did not know exactly how to best use this newly acquired knowledge. Then an idea came to me. Why not try to teach some of this to my students? Blockly coding programs and activities, like the kind librarians use for Hour of Code, are great for teaching basic concepts to beginners, especially the very young, however, older students should have some exposure to real code. It’s less daunting if you have someone helping you that believes you are capable and genuinely wants you to be successful.

AASL standards and TEA Technology TEKS define learning goals for student use of technology as facilitating collaboration for the creation of meaningful products that have real-world applicability. It is imperative to provide students with these opportunities early on to build momentum to pursue STEAM careers.

This spring semester I started teaching Ruby code to my 3rd, 4th and 5th Grade students on during library class. We started simply by learning how to print out a string multiple times in Ruby. We moved on to arrays, indexes and if conditional statements which mimic some early computer games. We incorporated information from subscription research databases to create interactive conversations with historical figures. Our current lesson involves building a pseudo-database with a hash to organize the family trees of characters from Harry Potter. The students are charged with rewriting the story by writing unique code to modify the branches of the tree. Perhaps Fred survived or Harry married someone else?

Mind map Harry Potter family tree made using Google

Sample unfinished HP family tree Ruby hash

Sample code to modify hash

Additionally, I reviewed the progress of all students who participated or completed Course 1 on and sent out invitations to join our Coding Club. We are a school of 600+ students and our club currently has 40+ members. Last week parents of Coding Club members were invited to connect to their child’s Coding Club journal on Seesaw via a unique QR code. The Coding Club’s Seesaw account gives users access to my video tutorials, vocabulary, programming historical facts and provides a online forum to share, discuss, and get feedback from their peers about their code.

There has been phenomenal positive feedback from parents and teachers. This might be my most successful venture to date in the library. My next focus will be collaborating with teachers to devise cross-curricular lessons that utilize the coding knowledge students obtain in library class. Sure, the library is still a place to find, read and love books but it’s also becoming the tech learning center on our campus. When visitors enter our school one of the first things they see is the sign on our library doors that reads #READ WRITE CODE.

Looking Back: TASL MVP Awards 2017

The MVP (Media/Virtual Presence) Award is given to those school librarians who show excellence in their virtual presence through several different avenues, including but not limited to Twitter, professional websites, Facebook, school library websites, blogs, Pinterest, and other social media.

Sara Romine currently serves as the librarian at Woodstone Elementary in North East ISD.  Her online presence via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and her blog, “Lessons from a Laughing Librarian”, exemplify her innovative library programming and her commitment to the importance of sharing her library story through social media.  TASL is proud to recognize Sara with an MVP Honorary Award for Excellence for her exceptional online presence.
Cari Young currently serves as the librarian at Fox Run Elementary School in North East ISD.  Cari shares her creative library centers and twenty-first century learning practices through a variety of social media outlets including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and her blog entitled “Library Learners”.  Cari is being recognized with a TASL MVP Honorary Award for Excellence for her exemplary work.

Each year, the TASL MVP Awards Committee selects a librarian who demonstrates excellence in his/her media virtual presence.  This year’s winner was selected by a committee of dedicated librarians, Sue Fitzgerald, Carolyn Foote, and Michelle Cooper, who evaluated all applicants’ medial presence for relevance, timeliness, social interaction, blog components, and appearance.  TASL is pleased to announce this year’s winner is devoted to sharing a love of libraries and children’s literature via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and her blog, “Librarian in Cute Shoes”.  Through her social media presence, Cynthia Alaniz champions and promotes engaging school library curriculum by sharing her expertise freely with all educators.  Cynthia currently serves as the librarian at Cottonwood Creek Elementary in Coppell ISD.  We are proud to award Cynthia the TASL MVP Award for 2017.

TASL would like to congratulation to all the recipients listed above and the MVP Committee for their service this past year. If you’d like additional information about the TASL MVP Award, please check the TASL Awards page and click on the MVP tab.  For a list of past winners, use this link.  Keep sharing your library stories and use the #txasl and #txlchat hashtags to connect with other librarians across the state.

The TLA Experience: A First-Time Attendee's Review of TLA

This was reprinted with permission from Wenndy Pray, Librarian
B. L. Gray Junior High – Sharyland ISD, Mission, Texas
Library Science Graduate Student – Sam Houston State University  

Anticipation. Expectation. Authors. Books.

These ideas and many others gurgled inside me as I concluded my four-hour drive to San Antonio.  My mentor, Nicole Cruz, accompanied me; we had both signed up for Battledecks on Wednesday and were worried we would be late.  I was definitely excited – Impromptu Speaking and I go way back.  (I also looked forward to seeing Becky Calzada, Martha Rossi, Jan Hodge, and many other awesome library administrators I had met as an intern during the Texas Association of School Library Administrators, or TASLA, conference last June.)

We picked up our badges and headed toward room 221CD. My nerves kicked in when I saw the room filled with librarians.  Here I was, a first time TLA-er and already participating in Battledecks. I was nervous and excited. Rules were explained, and names were drawn.  I was sixth in line. As I walked toward the front of the room and took the microphone in hand, I could feel the lump in my throat. There was the first slide. “What does is cost to own your profession?” was the theme of my presentation.  I connected every single one of those random slides and rocked that performance! I had the room laughing slide after slide, and although I didn’t place, it was the most fun.  Laughter is a huge part of how I teach in the library, and I would gladly participate again.

After Battledecks, my mentor was invited to the TALL Texan Social.  I was incredibly honored to accompany her and be among the “Who’s Who” of the TALL Texan Leadership Institute.  My mentor was class of 2005 and will serve as a TALL Texan mentor this summer. It fueled me with aspirations to one day be among them. It was also a treat to see Susi Grissom, another 2005 alumnus, be awarded the 2017 Standing TALL Texan Award. As a first-year librarian, I will be pursuing this prestigious honor in the years to come (four to be exact).

We made our way to the enormous exhibit hall. As I got past registration, I had the privilege to meet and take a picture with TLA President Walter Betts. That was excellent!
General Session I kicked off my Thursday. Being received by the mariachi gave me a flavorful welcome.  I also found the urgency in Cory Doctorow’s message encouraging.  A quote that struck a chord in me said something like, “Libraries are the clubhouse of the resistance.” His presentation made me think about the future of my profession and filled me with ideas on how to become indispensable in my library.
Another personal highlight for me was visiting with my Sam Houston State University professors.  I will be graduating in August and had a fabulous time visiting with Dr. Karin Perry, Dr. Teresa Lesesne, Dr. Holly Weimar, Dr. Robin Moore, and Dr. Rose Brock. These ladies have been instrumental in my librarian journey, and I was grateful to see them there.

Friday was filled with sessions, authors, and books. The exhibit hall was one of the attractions I was looking forward to as well.  To be quite frank, I wanted to be everywhere at once.  I discovered the “galley” and was incredibly happy to meet authors DJ MacHale, Janet Taylor Lisle, Ruth Behar, Margarita Engle, and Isabel Quintero. I was looking forward to seeing these authors and wanted to meet more.

I also attended sessions about volunteer programs, middle grade authors, and middle school reading programs. A high school administrator from our district was able to attend as well.  This was incredibly exciting because she was able to tap into how other administrators are supporting libraries, librarians, and advocating for literacy alongside them.
I highly anticipated attending the TASL Business meeting, where I would listen to student winners of the Letters About Literature competition.  One winner is from a neighboring district.  I was also recognized as one of five state-wide recipients of the Texas Association of School Librarians Scholarship. Being selected was an honor and a privilege. It felt quite awesome to take a picture with TASL Chair Becky Calzada, TASLA President Nicole Cruz, and fellow librarian and recipient Denisse Ochoa.

I missed some great events due to becoming ill in the afternoon, but read about them on Twitter.  I read that Carmen Agra Deedy’s presentation during General Session II was amazing! I was also able to listen to tidbits of the TLA band and the Spazmatics concert.  Thank God for social media! Although I was recovering in my hotel room, I was constantly plugged in.

Saturday’s grand finale for me was attending the Texas Youth Media Award ceremony at the Grand Hyatt with fellow librarians from Sharyland ISD. Our students won state recognitions in 8 of 10 categories and placed 1st in 5 out of 10 categories for grades 9-12.  It was refreshing and encouraging to see that librarians from across the state, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, are guiding students to create in areas of coding, photography, animation, video recordings, and music. I plan to encourage students in my middle school by partnering with teachers and promoting and facilitating project-based learning.

Although it was a bit overwhelming for a newcomer, I will definitely return to TLA.  The networking, professional development, and personal growth that I experienced is of great value.  It is an excellent place to recharge, interact, and reconnect with librarians from all over the state. I thank everyone who took part in making TLA a success this year and look forward to the greatness to come.

What were some of your favorite #txla17 hightlights?  Please share in the comments below!