Illinois School Library Media Association Annual Conference


It was wonderful to be able to ‘remotely’ participate in the 2016 Illinois School Library Media Association Annual Conference even though I was visiting my daughter at our first ever parent’s weekend at The University of Minnesota!  I was part of an amazing panel of educators who are on the cutting edge of makerspaces in libraries.


Kristen Mattson @DrKMattson, Erin Wyatt @ejdwyatt, and Pattie Fleser @pafleser and I gave an overview of our space and then took questions from the jam packed room in Tinley Park.

Most of the questions were about getting spaces started in a variety of settings and bringing teachers on board.  You can see some of the notes from the session HERE.


Sure wish I could have been there to see and hear these phenomenal educators and author.  I’m there for sure next year!

Thanks again for letting me be a part!


How to Make a Simple Homemade Stamp to Create Your Own Custom Stationery

I like the idea of sending thank you cards.  It wasn’t something that I grew up with doing as a young person, but my wife did.  It is now second nature.  I think it is pretty wonderful to get a hand written note from someone and so I try to send them as often as I can.  It’s easy now days to pick up a pack from the dollar store, but imagine how much more special the receiver feels when they know you personally made the card and took the time to send it.  In this post, I’m going to show you a very simple way to make your own personalized stationery for basically no cost.

I like 5″ x 7″ cards.  I sometimes print an image at Walgreens, glue it to the card and then find a quote that enhances it.  I’ve been wanting to try something different, so I decided to make my own stamp.

I began with a block of scrap lumber, approximately 4″ x 6″ in size.  I screwed a smaller block to the wood to give it a handle.

Next, I took a handful of rubberbands and created an interesting pattern.  The handle actually helps create different designs on the underside.


As usual, patterns and designs pop up that I didn’t see before test printing.  The star was a surprise!


I tried a few test prints and was very happy with the design.  I tweaked a couple of the rubber bands to enhance a few lines.

I used tempera paint that I had on hand and a foam brush to dab it on the underside of the stamp.  I found that I could actually make several ‘prints’ from one coating of paint.  In fact, neat effects evolved with the decreasing amount of  paint.  I also experimented with turning the stamp different directions to see what would emerge.


I received a package earlier in the day and didn’t want to simply recycle the packing material.


After unrolling, I decided to make my own wrapping paper with the packing material.  This was a lot of fun to try all sorts of different techniques.

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This was a simple project and I think I would love to try it with students.  We have tons of ‘scrap’ material left over from all sorts of projects.  Add some rubber bands and you’ve made an instant stamp!  It would be fun to see how students experiment lines and patterns as well.  This would be a neat holiday gift for students to make!


I know I would appreciate getting a card like this.  How about you?  Do you have any suggestions for how to make this activity even more fun?

Mr. Burleson Goes to Washington Part One: Getting to Know DC

I’m just now sitting down after a whirlwind series of days in which I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Washington, DC, accept the School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Award, tour the Library of Congress, take a moonlit tour of the capitol, deliver a keynote presentation to 300 librarians and leaders in the field, spend time with the new Librarian of Congress and visit the Kaboom! headquarters.  To say I’m wiped out is an understatement!  It’s been mind-blowing!  So much happened that I’m going to have to break it down into three parts.

Part One:  After a late night arrival in DC, I was up and ready to visit the Library of Congress.  We began in the Younger Readers Center within the Library of Congress.  This tiny space was chock full of the ‘best of’ collections.  Every reading group was represented from birth to teens.  Run mostly by volunteers, the small collection was inviting and lively.  img_5290

Of course, President Jefferson, who essentially started the Library of Congress, was featured prominently throughout the Young Readers Center.


One of the most interesting collections for me was the Braille collection.  One of student’s favorite titles, Harry Potter, was there in Braille.  It took 17 notebooks to contain the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Another very popular title,  The Hunger Games, was available for visitors to ‘read.’  It sure gave me an appreciation for Louis Braille!

After visiting the Young Reader’s Center, we were off for an astronomical tour by the Library of Congress’ Historian John Cole.

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The main ‘reading room’ in the Library of Congress.  The veranda was enclosed completely in a glass ‘box’ that allowed visitors to see the reading area, without disturbing those below.  It was stunning and there is no way to capture its beauty in a photograph.

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Dr. Cole literally ‘wrote the book’ on the Library of Congress.  He knew the detail behind every piece of ornate sculpture, mosaic, painting and statue.

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Jefferson’s Library was incredible!  So interesting to be standing amongst the very books he read.  The Library of Congress was established because and I’ll paraphrase, ‘There should be no topic that a member of congress could read about before making a decision.’  Interesting concept.

It was a GORGEOUS day in DC!  The Library of Congress sits across from both the capitol and the Supreme Court of the United States.

That is where I’m going to end this first installment.  Next up: Day One of the SLJ Summit.

Thank You!

Mo Willems has been a favorite of our students since I began working as a librarian.  He has the perfect blend of humor and depth.  He turned the ‘everybody’ section of our library on its head.  We call the ‘everybody’ section of our library that because we want ‘everybody’ to know that these are books for them.  They are books that are accessible to beginning readers, but often favorites of all students.  One of the very favorite books is the Elephant and Piggie series.  The ‘last in the series’ is called Thank You!


Honestly, I can’t imagine a more fitting way to ‘end’ that series and ‘start’ our school year.  I have a lot to be thankful for this year and so I thought we would begin the year with this book and have the students in our K-4 school respond with gratitude.

The book reminds us to say Thank You to those who have made a difference in our lives.  It is truly a love story from Mo to his readers.  Our students thought it was a fun way to show their appreciation.


Thank YOU Mo Willems for your fantastic writing and for making characters that resonate with all readers!

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Mo isn’t done writing, however!  He has a TON of new characters and projects in the works.  A quick visit to his website shows just how much we have to look forward to!



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Mo is one of the authors I would love to have visit Hubbard Woods School.  Mo, if you are reading this, let us know how we can get you to Hubbard Woods!  We’d love to Thank YOU in person!


Learning the Basics of Zome Tool Through Free Exploration

zt-education-logoZome Tool is a unique building material.  It was totally new to both me and the school last year.  Honestly, we didn’t get our first kit until nearly the end of the school year and I only had the chance to explore it with the fourth grade students.  I had zero experience with it and so had they.  Together we explored and this year I knew that I would be looking forward to even greater exploration with my younger students.  Their website has a TON of resources for educators! I do take exception to one of their images that states: “You once outgrew blocks, now go beyond bricks.”  To me and to educators everywhere, there is no such thing as outgrowing blocks, or bricks.  In fact, one of the most important elements I had in my 9-10 year old student’s classroom was the blocks.  They modeled everything from cities to room designs.  You can NEVER outgrow blocks or bricks.  You CAN add a new tool, and that’s what I did with Zome Tool.

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The first thing we realized when I introduced this to second graders is that the pieces are far more fragile than K’Nex or Lego or other building tools. (I just discovered that Zometool will replace all broken parts for free!) The ‘hub’ is also a bit of a puzzle to figure out.  Each color piece has a unique shape at the end that is the connection to the hub.  Once we understood the two basic rules of Zome Tool, the whole process seemed to go more smoothly.


These simple rules work well for just about any kind of building tool, from Lego to K’Nex!  I started by showing the kids some images to get them excited.

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Their response was precious.  As each subsequent and more complex image was shown on the screen, their audible gasp grew.  When they saw the image of the man inside the Zome Tool structure they were so excited they could barely stand it.  The room size sculpture totally blew their mind.  They were so eager to get started I could see them slowly moving toward the tools!  With the simple cube on the screen behind them, they began building.


I let the students keep their structures intact at the end of their class.  They used the iPad to put a photo of their project into their Seesaw portfolio at the end of class.  The classes that came afterward added on to the structures of the students who came before them.

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At the end of the classes I asked the kids what they thought:

“It was a lot easier than I thought it would be.”

“It was fun trying to see if you could fill each hole on the hub with a different piece.”

“The structures are super complex!”

“It was really fun building on to other’s structures.”

“I’m glad we added them to our Seesaw portfolio so that we could ‘keep’ our structure.”


I’m glad we bought the kits.  I think they were a tremendous success.  I received a grant to explore Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic creations and I am looking forward to purchasing twenty Bucky Ball Kits to haves the students explore making geodesic domes.

I think out students took to the tool naturally.  They have a history of working with unit blocks, Lego and Froebel Blocks as well.


It will be fascinating to see how the older students experience this learning tool.  I am sure they will build magnificent things too!

Happy Book Birthday Mac Barnett!

Hubbard Woods School was honored to have Mac Barnett visit on a very special day; the day his book was released!  Mac was awesome!  His new book, The Magic Word was mesmerizing to our students.  Do you know what the magic word is?  Well, you better ask your child, but watch out, it is magic!



screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-7-33-49-pmWhat would a book birthday be without singing happy birthday to the book.  As nobody else could, Mac lead us through a very long and convoluted rendition of Happy Birthday to his book!





Mac was funny, silly and yet found a way to share the process that goes into making a book.  In fact, he drew us a diagram of the process of making a book.



It began with him drawing a map of the United States from space.  He showed us where he lived in CA and where his editor lived in NY.  After crisscrossing the country multiple times via edits, the book went on to multiple other folks involved in the process including being printed in China!

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What impressed me most about Mac’s visit was the careful reading and dissection he gave for one of my favorite books from last year: Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.  He co-wrote this book with its illustrator John Klassen.  I had noticed the images, but Mac really helped us all see some hidden parts of the book that honestly I missed; even after reading it a dozen times out loud to students!


We are so grateful to The Book Stall at Chestnut Court for bringing Mac to us.  We truly are blessed to have such high-caliber authors and illustrators visit us at Hubbard Woods! I can honestly say it will be tough to top this particular visit!


The Cardboard Challenge!

We are SO EXCITED that this Saturday is our second annual Cardboard Challenge!  This is part of the broader Global Cardboard Challenge powered by the Imagination Foundation. We hope that your family can make it from 2:00-4:00.  We know it isn’t an ideal time but it is quite hard to find one that works for everyone.

This year’s theme, as you probably have heard is “Make it and Take It!”  We are taking some time this week in IDEA Lab to plan our designs and learn how to use the tools that will be available on Saturday.

The biggest tool is Makedo. Makedo allows kids to easily cut cardboard and join it using rivets.  These are super cool and fairly inexpensive.  You can find out more about them and how to purchase them here.


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They even have a terrific section of their website that has ‘how to’ videos on it if for some reason your child didn’t get a chance to practice with them in the IDEA Lab this week.



Here are some fun examples to show the kids to get their imagination racing!  We won’t be painting at the cardboard challenge, but there will be plenty of tape, glue scissors, lots of recyclable materials, rivets, and more.  Bring boxes or recyclables that you have stashed at home; we’ll have a ton from all the school supply orders from the school year.  We will also have sheet cardboard for families to use as well!

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Here is a video of last  year’s event!

The kids are having a blast dreaming up their ideas for Saturday and learning to use the cardboard tools!

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We hope to see you there!  And if you can’t make it, we hope that this post inspires some creativity in your house!