Cool Tools for Schools, Thing 9: Databases & Search Tools

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since my last post! I knew I’d gotten a bit behind on the blogging but I didn’t realize it was quite so bad. Admittedly, I bit off a little more than I could comfortably chew the last few months. In addition to the usual school/teaching responsibilities and this class I also: volunteered to help run the stage crew for our school musical, signed up for another class on implementing the flipped classroom model, volunteered to help with the Spring Carnival and, volunteered to help with the Spring book fair. So while I was able to keep up with the exploration of the Cool Tools schedule (for the most part anyway), I was not at all able to keep up with the actual blogging part of the experience. Every time I sat down to write up my thoughts and experiences in a clear, understandable way I would realize I didn’t have the brain power to do that and decide to try it “later”. And that is how I find myself at (literally) the 11th hour trying to coherently write up my last two blog posts. I can’t decide if I should make you all promise to never mention this to my students or use myself as a cautionary tale the next time we talk about time management and planning…

The smaller hurdle I faced with the last two Cool Tools was that the final two for Track 2 didn’t jump out at me and catch me interest. I kept starting to dabble in them but would give up after a few minutes of not feeling inspired. This happened more times than I care to admit before I remember that, duh, this is a flexible course and I don’t have to do specific tools or stick to one track over the other! And that is when I noticed a Thing on Track 1 about my old nemesis: databases. (I feel like I make a lot of confessions to the internets between this blog and my Twitter account but, here comes another one.) Databases are a major weakness of mine. Database maintenance is one of the main reasons I leaned towards school librarianship over academic librarianship when I was in library school. I find it incredibly overwhelming keeping track of what is available and how to best use it (and as you may have noticed from my first paragraph, I sometimes take the avoid and ignore approach when things intimidate and overwhelm me…). I have a two pages with different databases and search tools on my library website, one for students and one for teachers, and in my (self proclaimed) very humble opinion, it’s a much better collection of tools than what was on the website when I took over my position last summer.

However, looking over ALL the potential options on Cool Tool 9, it became clear I was missing tons of great sources. This became even more clear when I completely blanked on a great resource for my 3rd graders later that week. One of the 3rd grade teachers asked me for suggestions on places to find information for their country research projects. It wasn’t until the next week when the other two teachers came down to ask the same question that I remembered a newer resource, CutltureGrams, they should try. If I didn’t feel bad enough having forgotten to mention it to the first teacher, the other two kept raving about how great CultureGrams was, how easy it was for the kids to use and how closely the available information and site setup mirrored the graphic organizer they were using. Yup, it was clearly time to comb through the Cool Tools resource list and update my webpages (and myself) on resources for databases and searching.

The actual act of finding and trying out new databases and search tools was actually pretty fun (if not a little depressing every time I realized just how many resources my website had been lacking all year). I especially liked the search widgets that some of the resources have available. I think students will leave the simplicity of searching right from the resource page and not having to click on a link first. As much fun as compiling all the new resources was, adding to them to my library webpage was noticeably less so. I like my website to be attractive and functional and the platform we use for teacher sites doesn’t always make that possible. I’ve got the new, more improved pages up and running on my site but I will definitely by spending some of my summer overhauling the website again this year….

Overall, I’m really glad I tried this tool and feel much better about ability to assist with these end of year research projects now. However, I’m still nervous about the upkeep of my webpages and my knowledge. I wish there was a shortcut, easy way to know about what resources are available (or maybe there is? I really have no idea). I guess I’ll have to make a point of checking our BOCES site and searching the internet these things quarterly so I can keep the library webpage and myself up to date. I’m literally grabbing my teacher planner for next year so I can add it to my calendars as to do item.

But seriously, if anyone knows a shortcut besides those two options, let me know :-).

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