Vagabond Librarian

Reports from the intersection of military life, motherhood, & librarianship.



Free For All: Using Images from Online Resources Responsibly

CC2.0 Portrait with Bust of Minerva and iPad courtesy of Mike Licht via Flickr
CC2.0  Portrait with Bust of Minerva and iPad courtesy of Mike Licht via Flickr

I love rainy Sunday afternoons for reading, and for catching up on news and social media. While I was on Facebook yesterday, “liking” Homecoming pictures and “unfollowing” friends (for now) who have suddenly turned into rabid political commentators, something from a friend’s newsfeed caught my eye. My friend had commented on something originally shared by a blogger who mentioned copyright (one of my favorite topics!), and who was expressing her sadness at feeling that she had no choice but to shut down her inspirational blog because of what she had learned from reading BlogHer author Roni Loren’s post entitled “Blogger Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Photos You Don’t Own on Your Blog.” Loren, and the blogger who shared the post, were not alone in their misunderstanding of usage rights and copyright for digital images. They, like many bloggers, thought that by putting a disclaimer on their sites that they were not the original creator of the photos they were using, and that they would take the photos down if asked, that they were free to use what they wanted. After all, the reasoning goes, if someone puts something on the internet, isn’t that like saying they want people to use and share it? Many of the commenters on the above-linked blog post thought so, as do many of the students I work with every day. As Loren found out the hard way, that is not the case.

While the conversation sparked by this situation could go a number of different directions in relation to copyright, access to information, responsibilities of creators and consumers, etc., etc., what I want to address in this post is that there are some very easy, totally legal ways to search for pictures you can use for your blog or for other projects.

There is a nonprofit organization called Creative Commons that offers free copyright licenses to enable artists and other content creators to easily license their work to share it on their own terms. What that means to those of us looking for blog pictures is that we can more easily find content from creators who are happy to share their work with others. The beauty of these licenses for the content creators is that they can share their work and retain a degree of control over who uses it, whether they receive credit for it, and whether others can make money off of it. Creative Commons offers a page that serves as a gateway to a handful of popular search engines that is a convenient way to begin the search for content that is licensed for people to legally use and share–often only with the condition a work’s author and the terms of use be appropriately noted. For the picture at the top of this blog post, I used the Creative Commons page pictured below to search Flickr. The picture’s creator chose a license that requires me to attribute the work to the creator, and to link to the Creative Commons license associated with the picture. I chose to do each in the caption of that picture.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.” Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.
This is a screenshot of the Creative Commons access point to search engines that is a great place to start your search. This access point will help automatically narrow your search at your chosen search engine (for photos, I recommend Flickr, Google Images, and Pixabay). Always go one step further once you’ve found an image you like to verify that the usage license does allow you to use the image the way you intend. And, make sure to comply with any conditions of attribution.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 5.54.39 PM

Another search begun at the Creative Commons site yielded some results that were Public Domain (which means they do not require attribution at all), some results that had Creative Commons licenses, and some results that were available for purchase. All results were clearly labeled and it was easy to understand what was available to use freely.

The picture above, from Pixabay, is a picture that is in the Public Domain, and Pixabay clearly designates that it is Free for Commercial Use and that No Attribution is necessary.

My personal go-to image search, whether starting at the Creative Commons access point, or at Google itself, is Google Images. From the Google home screen or search bar, you simply type in your search term, click on “Search Tools” in the menu bar directly below the search box, and then click on “Usage Rights” to specify what license type you are looking for. The choices are plain language, and the results are reliably consistent. While it is my responsibility to verify that the images I use from the search results are in fact licensed for re-use, I find that Google Images reliable search results mean that I am less frustrated because I find images that truly are available for use.

Woman using computer on red stairs.
Meg Montgoris using free Wi-Fi on the red stairs on Duffy Square courtesy of Adam Pantozzi/Times Alliance via Flickr CC2.0

My personal don’t-go-there search engine for this type of search is Bing. After a quick “maybe it got better” search this morning, I would recommend you avoid it altogether. While Bing looks like it has similar options to the other search engines, the results are unreliable. The screen shot below (a composite of thumbnails returned by Bing, and which I am using for the purpose of review) represents search results for which I had set the license filter to “Free to share and use.” When I clicked on each picture to verify its origin and licensing, they were mostly photos under copyright that were not at all free to share and use. Skip this search engine for this purpose.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 5.58.18 PM
Filter set to “Free to share and use.” Search results were actually mostly not free to share and use.

I hope that this information will lead you to swift searching, responsible sharing, and to beautiful content that you can use. I hope that the blogger who was considering shutting down is able to find images to keep her blog going–and that her readers might also consider becoming contributors of content for her page, with CC licenses of their choosing for their work!

Thankful for an Opportunity to Learn

I first saw the Facebook Data Science What are we most thankful for? chart on the Mental Floss Facebook feed. I was fascinated by the topic, the data, and, as always, the comments following the “share.”

I like seeing this sort of data science at work. I found Facebook’s “thankful data” fun because it offers a snapshot of something quirky, and positive, about how some Americans think. I am not kidding when I say that it warms my heart to see what people using Facebook proclaimed they were thankful for during the periods the study covered. Although Netflix didn’t make my personal thankful list this November, I am glad it is around–and, I’m all for sunsets, freedom of speech, and the ability to laugh.

I am also not kidding when I say that it horrifies me to read the comments on the Mental Floss, NPR, and Facebook Data Science posts of this article that reveal that many people commenting appear to have had no interest in actually looking at the relatively short, and clearly written and illustrated, science behind the data. Even allowing for Thanksgiving Trolls, the comments that I saw overwhelmingly suggest that people simply are not interested in understanding how a study works, much less the variety of ways data can be used and organized. Many commenters are adamant that their state was misrepresented because they would not personally *ever* be thankful for [whatever it is the text-clustering algorithm identified for their state].

Facebook Data Science: What Are We Most Thankful For?

Map of United States with Words Representing Things Residents are Thankful for.
From Facebook’s Data Science Team: What are we most thankful for? by Winter Mason, Funda Kivran-Swaine, Moira Burke, and Lada Adamic

As a librarian and an educator that lack of understanding is a big deal to me. If I were to view those comments in the context of iterative assessment while working with a class who was responding to the results of this survey, I would determine that we had missed the mark in gaining meaningful understanding that would lead to producing our own sound conclusions. As thinking members of a society, this should be a big deal to all of us. No, not the realization that English-speaking, California Facebook users whose data made it into this study were thankful for YouTube. What should be a big deal is what the anecdotal evidence we see in the comments reveals about what we should focus on in education to prepare today’s students become productive members of a globally connected society. Being able to read, understand, and interpret information is a basic literacy skill. I hope that we can help our students develop this basic skill. I hope we can also engender in our students the motivation to investigate and question the data that drives the creation of these charts, then to review that information and apply the details to enhance their understanding of how data is collected and what it can be used for. Or even better–to analyze the way data is collected and used to create new understanding and to apply that knowledge to investigate something they are passionate about.

All that from a silly little “share” about what people are thankful for on Facebook? Yup.

I know this isn’t a new issue, and I know it isn’t going away soon. I know some of you got to that second paragraph and thought, “in other news, water is still wet.” That doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference, though. I’m thankful for articles, data, and comments that make me think. I’m thankful for my family, friends, education, passion, freedom of speech–and for math and science teachers who might like to collaborate with a certain Teacher Librarian on a few data science lessons.

Transforming Stories Collaboration Celebration

I’m excited to share this celebration video I’m creating for one of the classes I worked with during my practicum. I am going through their project packets to provide a final round of feedback—and am excited that their planning and creativity resulted in some amazing projects! Sharing a few snippets of their hard work seemed like a great way to wrap up this lesson.

Cool Tool: Storybird

Storybird activities aligned with blooms taxonomy

I have written about Storybird before, and tonight I was able to share some of my Storybird learning with my Information Technologies in Educational Organizations classmates during a webinar. I wanted to provide a few additional resource links here as a follow-up to that experience, and I wanted to share the learning with anyone else who may be interested. While I did not include specific Common Core or AASL standards on the above slide, teacher librarians and other educators familiar with both sets of standards will see the common learning threads that the use of Storybird could support in classrooms for young and older learners alike, across subject areas.

Storybird for Learning on Wikispaces

Storybird Tutorial for Students on YouTube

Storybird Resources Symbaloo    

Using Storybird in the Classroom by L. Dabbs (2011) from Edutopia.

For anyone interested in the slide packet that went along with my webinar, here it is!

Intellectual Freedom & Internet Filtering

Why a Wiki? Content Collaboration in the Middle School

A wiki is a content collaboration tool that enables people to work together remotely to share ideas, develop new understandings, plan and negotiate processes, make decisions, and solve problems. A wiki can serve as a sandbox for collaboration and working together, and it also  can serve as a presentation medium for finished work. Students can use wikis to aggregate and share resources, to develop guides, bibliographies and book reviews to share with their peers, and as a platform to showcase their original writing and multimedia creations. In this blog post, I’d like to share an idea for an authentic wiki project for fifth graders.

Before we delve into that idea, though, check out this video by Common Craft Wikis in Plain English (May 29, 2007 via YouTube). This is an old video, but by far the most clear and concise description of how a wiki works that I have seen. (The video I had previously embedded below wasn’t working, so I substituted a screenshot of a wiki I created about using Storybird. The text link to the video still works, though.)

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 8.07.39 AM

As you are no doubt thinking after watching Wikis in Plain English, there are infinite possibilities for applying wikis to classroom collaboration projects. What I have in mind is a unit activity that would work well as a collaboration between the school librarian and the 5th grade writing teacher, but this project lends itself to collaboration with all subject area teachers, as well as other school staff.

The Project:

Fourth graders are nervous about entering the middle school next year, where they will be required to change classes, remember locker combinations, and navigate the junior high hallway to the gym. Current fifth graders are being asked to create a wiki that provides information and resources that they think will help these new students transition to the middle school.

Earlier in this post, I referred to this as an “authentic” wiki project. Working on an authentic task is incredibly motivating for students. This project is authentic because the students are working on providing a usable product for a real-world purpose. This project isn’t intended to simply earn a grade and then sit online for parents to proudly point to later. This project is intended to be put to use by a real audience (and, of course, proudly pointed to by parents as well).

This wiki project can include academic, practical, and social advice. All of the information included in the wiki should be relevant, engaging, and encouraging for incoming students. It should be written in a formal voice, and should contain proper spelling and grammar. The wiki should include maps, interviews, photos, links, and either a FAQs page or a place for fourth grade students to submit questions. The wiki can include a “Story” page, in which case the text introducing the page should be formal and the stories can be written in whatever voice is appropriate to the narrator.

The wiki will be started by the librarian, who will provide links on the home page to additional wiki pages that contain the following information:

  • Basic instructions and a video tutorial
  • Wiki guidelines
  • Brainstorming area
  • Recommended Duties page where students can sign up as authors, editors, fact-checkers, photographers, and whatever other duties they determine are necessary
  • Parent information page
  • Privacy information and internet safety reminders (the wiki privacy settings can be “Private” while students are working and once the wiki is complete, the pages can be “Locked” and the wiki will be made available online for viewing)

Once the basic framework for a wiki is established, the librarian can introduce the wiki, its tools, and the wiki engagement guidelines, to students during a class in the library or classroom. The librarian can demonstrate examples of respectful wiki interactions, citing sources, fact checking, offering constructive criticism, and how to use functions like the wiki discussion space to politely explain why you edited someone else’s work (spelling, organization, fact check, visual appeal, or maybe you found more recent information from a reliable source that differs).

The hardest part about a project like this is the next step.

Stand back and let the students learn.

Let them brainstorm, collect information, work together to decide how to organize their information, make connections, ask more questions, debate, and edit. In other words, let them discover and learn. Coach them when they get stuck. Model critical research and inquiry skills. Provide assistance when they need to resolve a conflict. Be a mentor if they come to you with a problem, and encourage them to rely on each other to work through it. By putting your students in charge of the process, you give them experience planning, collaborating, thinking critically, editing, validating information, and practicing good digital citizenship. And, they will accomplish all of that while engaging in a fun activity that is providing an authentic product that will serve a greater good. Teaching doesn’t get better than that.

You can involve students in their own assessment, too. Posting the assessment criteria on the wiki will provide them an ongoing reminder of what is expected of them throughout the project.

You could include self-assessment elements like the following:

  • I provided constructive feedback to others and responded politely when I got feedback.
  • I followed directions and assisted others in the investigation, editorial, and review processes
  • I contributed thoughts and ideas to improve the project
  • I followed directions and did my best.

And, project assessment elements like these:

  • The project uses formal voice
  • The project is free of spelling and grammar errors
  • The project uses positive language
  • The project uses outstanding resources and those resources are cited
  • The project includes pictures and multi-media elements that are relevant, and are cited

You can tailor the assessment elements to the learning standards you are targeting in your library lessons and the subject area teacher is targeting in their content lessons.

Some of the learning standards this project directly supports are:

AASL Standard 2.1.5 Collaborate with others to exchange ideas, develop new understandings, make decisions, and solve problems.


Common Core Standard W.5.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

Common Core Standard W.5.5 With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Common Core Standard W.5.8 Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital resources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work, and provide a list of sources.

How have you used wikis in the classroom? Or, how would you like to see wikis used in the classroom? Share your comments below!

Mobile Learning Tools at School

I am excited about the learning that can happen on mobile devices (mLearning). In this post, I’ve included a few thoughts about using mLearning in schools, as well as a useful chart for choosing appropriate mLearning tools and a brief description of an activity that will engage even our youngest students in meaningful mLearning.

There is great potential in mLearning. Like other methods of student engagement, mLearning requires solid planning, clear guidance, and ongoing engagement from the teacher to be a meaningful learning experience. I do sympathize with people who see mLearning as a distraction. Technology-based learning tools can too easily be thrown at students without real consideration to the purpose or the learning objectives those tools support. This is nothing new, though. Take, for example, the use of movies in the classroom. There is a huge difference in the educational value of showing West Side Story as a compare-and-contrast element when you study Romeo and Juliet in English class and showing The Little Mermaid as a reward for reading Romeo and Juliet. While using mobile devices for learning in the classroom may be new, the concept of adapting new technologies to support our educational goals is not.

One way for teachers, and in our case teacher-librarians, to ensure that we offer our students engaging learning experiences with mLearning, is to thoughtfully choose our technology tools based on learning objectives. Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives provides a valuable framework for identifying the learning focus of a lesson. One useful chart for choosing appropriate tools to support learning objectives is Bloom’s Taxonomy and iPad Apps from the Langwitches Blog by Silvia Rosenthal, a 21st century learning specialist who emphasizes the importance of globally connected learning, technology integration, and digital storytelling.


The following activity is intended for students in the Kindergarten-2nd Grade range, and focuses on the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is creating. The app I chose for this activity is SonicPics, which currently costs $2.99 and is available for use with most iDevices.

Activity: My School Day, An Audio-Visual Story

Description of Activity: In this activity, students will each tell the story of their school-day by using a classroom iPad to photograph places and people in their school to create slide show that they will narrate and then share with classmates and parents. The students will work in pairs to plan, construct, edit, and record their stories.

  • The teacher-librarian and teacher will show students their own SonicPics recordings and then walk students through the creation process. The advantage to having both the teacher and librarian create and share their own recordings is that the students will see different perspectives and presentation styles, which will encourage free expression. Including “My School Day” stories from the principal, cafeteria workers, and school secretary would be fun, too! If students seem hesitant to start, the class can brainstorm together about things they could include.
  • The students will be asked to take between 5 and 15 pictures to use in their projects, so each student will work with their teammate to plan what they want pictures of. Ideally, the teacher-librarian will coordinate to allow students access to photograph the lunchroom, playground, principal, and anything else they think of. If this is not possible, students will be invited to send the teacher out as their reporting photographer by telling the teacher who or what they would like photographed.
  • The students will be given assistance as they discover the process of ordering their photos and recording their audio narrative. These tasks will be presented on instruction sheets as they are in the app, graphically with text clues, so that students who are not able to read will still be able to succeed in the process of adding and ordering pictures, as well as recording themselves.
  • Depending on student experience with mobile apps, the teacher-librarian will provide further examples, and group and individual instruction. Older students will be asked to also include a title or description with each picture. Younger students will use only audio to accompany their pictures for this activity.
  • All students will have the opportunity to share their video with the class and with their families.


  • Common Core 2.SL.5 Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: Create audio recordings of stories or poems; add drawings or other visual displays to stories or recounts of experiences when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings
  • American Association of School Librarians 4.1.8 Use creative and artistic format to express personal learning.

Benchmark: Use technology tools to create and present ideas.

Motivational Value: The novelty of using a technological tool that the students have not used before will certainly capture student attention, as will the teacher-librarian and teacher presentations of their own projects. Because this project provides students, quite literally, a voice to share what is most important to them about their school day, the relevance of this project to students is expected to be high. Student confidence will vary—some of the students will have used different mobile apps on parents’ smartphones or other mobile devices and will be familiar with the methods of interacting, some will not. When possible, these students will be paired so that they can peer tutor. Student satisfaction is expected to be high in this project because there are multiple opportunities to share their work in a supportive environment.

I hope that Rosenthal’s Bloom’s Taxonomy for iPads and my My School Day audio-visual activity inspire you to think about ways you can use technology to help students learn, explore, and create.

Our Reading Summer

My favorite book this summer.

“Reading Summer” at our house is that brief time of year when we have the opportunity to read whatever we want, without the distraction of assigned reading. I enjoy reading. I  actually find my textbooks engaging. There is something, though, about having an entire three weeks to binge on my own reading choices that makes me giddy. My son does not enjoy reading like I do. For most of the year, it is a chore he must engage in to not fail his English Language Arts classes. During the summers, though, reading has begun to come alive for him. My husband is a voracious reader like me, but he was unable to participate in Reading Summer this year because he was reading legal manuals for an Army course–riveting, I’m sure, but assigned.

My Reading Summer wasn’t three whole weeks solely dedicated to reading, but it was three whole weeks dedicated to reading what I chose. And it reinforced for me everything I expressed in my early summer post Death to (Assigned) Summer Reading! Long Live Summer Reading! about how important it is to allow people time during which they are free to choose what they read–not from a list or for points, just for enjoyment. My fifth-going-into-sixth grade son’s quirky summer reading choices, which mostly involved kids-with-super-powers novels and informational texts, was a great reflection of his personality. It was also a relief to see the ease with which he read. He read with ease not because the material was “easy,” but because he had chosen it and could abandon it at any time for something better if he didn’t like it.

My second favorite Summer Read was our September book club pick! Serendipitous, eh?

I read with ease these last few weeks, too. I also abandoned books that didn’t work for me. It was liberating.

I hope you are able to carve out some space and reading time in your year to take a reading vacation, too. Not a vacation from reading, or a vacation from daily life, but a serious chunk of  time that you are able to set aside for the sole purpose of reading things that interest you–that you already love or may grow to love.

I would also love to hear about your favorite book to read for pleasure–at the moment or “of all time!” Please join the conversation by adding your favorite book (or for even more fun, you most quickly abandoned book!) in the comments below.

Supporting Technology Integration for Teachers

School Librarians can provide important in-house opportunities for professional development, especially in the arena of the integration of technical tools that support 21st Century Learning in the classroom. Teaching teachers is clearly different from teaching younger students. In spite of the differences, the ARCS Model of Motivational Design, which focuses on the four motivational elements of attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction, provides value to preparing professional development experiences as well as to preparing traditional classroom lessons.

During the last few weeks of the Motivating 21st Century Learners course, a thread titled “HS Teacher Workshops” caught my attention on one of the school media specialist ListServs. In the original message, a librarian requested suggestions for topics for workshops she could offer to teaching staff at her school. The librarian mentioned “database, eBooks, and the catalog” as ideas. The answers to her request revealed to me an interesting difference in how we approach the practical matter of teaching tech tools to teachers—that we sometimes focus more on the tools than the objective.

The answer to this query that stood out to me as most effective did not focus on the tech tools the librarian is presenting to teachers, but on the use of those tools. This thread made me think about how we should frame our instruction objectives for teacher workshops the same way we create learning objectives for students—by clearly stating the outcomes we expect from the lesson. The most useful suggestions include lesson focuses like:

• Using web tools for class projects

• Integrating the library into the curriculum with current books

• Using social media as a classroom tool

• Using the Library Web page as a classroom tool

By focusing more on the goal than on the tool, we can generate a better understanding of how we support teachers and we can invite them to ask us if there are particular tools they would like us to cover in support of the learning objective.

Lessons Learned from Exemplary Schools, an article from the journal TechTrends, provides examples of professional development successes that can further inform the way we plan professional development opportunities. The success stories included point to the following key elements to provide a foundation for effective professional development:

Treat Teachers as Professionals

Consider Teacher Input When Planning 

Provide Feedback About the Impact of the Training

I would address each of the elements using the ARCS model as follows, if I were beginning to plan technology integration teacher training:

In staff training, it will be important to capture and maintain interest and attention through both inquiry arousal (asking questions, brainstorming) and variability (mixing lecture, physical activity, group work).

The relevance of this training to teachers is high, although there will be some teachers who do not see their subject area as having anything to do with “tech.” Providing specific examples of successful technology integration practices across the curriculum will emphasize the relevance of the training to all.

The expected level of confidence teachers have in their technology integration skills will vary widely across the board, and it is likely that confidence levels will not reflect actual skill level. By providing multiple examples, student-led activities, peer learning activities, and multiple opportunities for feedback, the teachers will have the opportunity to explore technology integration methods that both boost their confidence and challenge them.

The expected level of satisfaction for teachers participating in technology integration training is medium to high. Many teachers will come to the training understanding the potential satisfaction that their success in the training will translate to in better student engagement and learning in the classroom. Teachers should be given multiple opportunities during the training to share their successes and their own ideas for integrating technology into their lessons.

Each of these elements point to the subtle way that teacher training (i.e. professional development) differs from teaching students. While we show respect, consider needs and share feedback with all students, teacher-students are in a unique position to play a more active role in the development, planning, execution, and improvement of their own training.


TechTrends is a subscription journal that caters to professionals in the field of educational communication and technology. You may be able to obtain a copy of this article through inter-library loan or through an online database that your library already subscribes to…just ask your librarian!

Schrum, L., & Levin, B. B. (2013). Lessons learned from exemplary schools. TechTrends, 57(1), 38-42. doi:

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