What the heck is a topiary beast?

This is one of a number of things I have found myself asking this week. It turns out it’s an animal shaped piece of topiary which can move, attack and potentially kill you. Luckily it’s in a game rather than the local park.

The game in question is D&D (Dungeons and Dragons), a group storytelling game. The game is played through a mix of storytelling and dice rolls. A DM (Dungeon Master) tells the story while those playing pretend to be a particular character and work together to make decisions, solve puzzles and complete quests, rolling dice to decide how successful they are in these enterprises. It’s an excellent game, ticks off loads of Curriculum for Excellence outcomes and played around the world but for many reasons but I’ve never played.

It’s not some weird midlife crisis that has made me think now is the time to learn but rather necessity. This year I was asked to host a D&D club in the library (it has been something I’d been toying with setting up for a few years but never actually done anything about). Excitingly about fourteen pupils want to play but since a game usually has only 6 or so players we are short a DM, so I have stepped into the breech.

Although new to D&D I am not new to some of the ideas. I’ve been a fan of the card game Munchkin for a long time and as a fan of fantasy and choose your own adventures over the years there are a number of familiar ideas. Where I am on a steep learning curve is the terminology and technical aspects to game play. There is a lot more maths in this game than I would like.

The game has a series of books to support play (the main ones being the Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Handbook and Monster Mannual) but while these are full of information they are very text heavy and I have found them useful if I know what I want to learn but hard to get into as a starting point. Luckily I have a variety of people to aid me in my quest and none of them as asking me to defeat an Owlbear or pay them a pile of gold peices before they will share their knowledge. I have two S6 pupils teaching me, the other DM (who is a pupil) plus my librarian chum Frances who has been running her school library D&D club for 17 years but does live rather far away. Plus of course the wealth of material online (see bottom for other places I’ve found useful).

Even with all this support it is a massive task to be knowledgeable enough to run a game I’ve never played. Fortunately the seven pupils who will be playing with me are only a few weeks into playing themselves and are still learning.

I’ve decided to blog my adventures here, reflect on my performance as a DM, ponder where I could improve and note information or sources I’ve found useful. The aim being partly a personal record but also as a resource I can come back to or share with others.

Starting Points:

If you don’t even know what D&D is then you can get a pretty good idea from watching Stranger Things (though it isn’t going to help you actually DM a game).

You are going to have to buy some dice if you are actually going to play. Not least since even how you read the dice can be hard to understand if you haven’t seen them before. There is a Starter Set for D&D that’s a good jumping off point and it includes the five most common dice plus a basic how to guide, pre-made characters  and a story to play. (You can also just buy the dice online – the bunch I got from amazon the other day averaged out that each set only cost £1:15.)

Like many things D&D has a vocabulary and style of writing the information unique to it so I have found making my own notes to be really useful. You can also google the terms by simply adding ‘D&D’ to your mysterious term.

It doesn’t always work though I spent most of a morning confused by the phrase ‘they will find it guarded by 1d4 topiary beasts’. I knew the word in bold was the monster and that was the keyword I’d look up online or in the Monster Manual. I also knew a d4 is a pyramid shaped dice and that 1d4 means you roll one of them. What I had failed to understand was that that number rolled represented the number of topiary beasts the players would be fighting (I had assumed it was one monster and the dice roll indicated difficulty or something). It’s for little bits like that that I have found the pupils invaluable. I have a list of questions and when I see them we go through it and I’ve found it incredibly helpful.

Frances has a really great blog full of information and advice for running D&D in a school library. It’s a really practical resource.

Detentions and Dragons is a podcast aimed at teachers wanting to run D&D in the classroom for after school. It’s an enjoyable listen and full of useful advice.

Dungeon Diaries is a short comic by mrjamesgifford it’s a enjoyable and more visual way of seeing the game play. It’s also written from a learning to play angle.

Wizards of the Coast who created D&D are the source for all thing official and their website has lots of information including basic guides but I have found that borrowing or buying the three key texts is the only choice for being the DM. (Curiously this is blocked in school).

The pupils also recommended Critical Role this is a group of voice actors who play D&D. I didn’t find this that helpful at this stage. Each episode is long (like hours long) which is similar to friends playing the game but I only have an hour to play in school so it doesn’t help show what my session would be like. Plus while watching (or listening) to them play is enjoyable story wise I found it wasn’t helpful for picking up the basics of how-to. The players are all high level and experienced which means that they don’t spend time showing what dice they are rolling or what bit on a character sheet they are adding to the number they rolled – which is very much the level I am at. I can see why it would be pleasurable for more experienced players or as a way to attract new audiences to the game as but it’s not a helpful starting point. It’s also a bit intimidating for a total novice – the DM is really good.

NB: D&D has been around for a long time now so multiple editions exist and each has changed how the game is played a bit. I am learning the 5th edition (5e) so everything I use will be using that version of the game.

Library Day in the Life Project

Created by Bobbi Newman of ‘Librarian By Day’ the ‘Library Day in the Life Project’ is all about sharing what you do as a librarian and seeing what others do given how varied the profession really is. So I thought I’d share my day with you in honor of National Library Day and the ‘Library Day in the Life Project’.

So let’s start at the beginning in case anyone reading doesn’t know me – I am a school librarian. I work in a Scottish High School meaning I am dealing with pupils aged from about ages 12 (S1) to 17 (S6). These 6 years of school include the exciting highlight of the national exams and as a result pupils are usually split in two main camps – those that spend lots of the year worrying about exams or those trying to ignore them altogether. The library is a busy a popular place with most days seeing every period being booked by teaching classes and outside of school the room full of pupils. For the sake of full disclosure the day I’m about to describe was Tuesday 31st of January.

My day started with picking up the newspapers from the school office, laying them out and tidying away the old ones. Least that’s how it’s supposed to start in reality as I walked towards the library a pupil asked to renew books and when I got to the library I helped mediate an argument about why it was or wasn’t rude to tell someone to go away.

Tutor brings a welcome break and for 15 minutes the library is quiet save for the couple of pupils querying my request for them to do a detention for overdue books and a couple of pupils handing books in or taking them out.

Period 1 was supposed to see me teaching an S1 class but all the S1 pupils had headed off on an educational trip to the National Museum (I am so jealous I totally want to go but have yet to find the time). In fact within about ten minutes I’d gained the whole morning as my period 2 cancelled and my period 3 was another S1. So with about four hours I decided to tackle some of the backroom tasks I usually ignore until the holiday.

Least that was the plan, instead I spent the first hour checking the budget and making sure I wasn’t owed money for the books I bought and that I’d spend all the library budget for the year. Then I sorted the CPD budget book requests and made up that order. Luckily for me I pass the request down to the office for actual ordering so the process isn’t as time consuming as it could be. I asked some S6 studying in the library to talk quieter (repeat this for most of the morning) mostly as I don’t want to hear their versions of world history (we are all descendants of Irish and Vikings) or their take on politics (if the Falkland Islands were attacked we’d loose them) as it makes me want to either correct them or debate them.

I also sorted the overdue notices (with pupil help), this also involved finding tutor group codes for all the pupils and working out who stilled owed books, requesting letters home and detentions for those long term overdue. All of these letters went in the pile to take down to the pigeon holes. I replaced a vandalised celling tile, logged two lights that were out and requested the replacement of two locker locks.

Then there was the daily check and update of email, blog, twitter, and tumblr. I’ve a bunch of posts for the blog just now as pupils have done reviews in class and S1 were doing recommendations for the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. So I sorted some of these as well.

At some point during all this break happened. Fifteen hectic minutes when pupils request a varied range of thing including computers for homework, paper, scissors, staplers, and some even asked for books. It was a quiet break with only about 80 pupils thanks to the S1 trip.

Next I catalogued the books that pupils had already marked up for me. Plus I marked up and catalogued the pile that had been ordered to fill requests.  Added stickers to them all showing where they get shelved and checked them all in.  Next I wrote the request slips for those books and the other requests that come from other libraries (pupils had checked the two boxes of books in for me already), found the tutor groups for the pupils and added them to the pile to go down the the pigeon holes.

My head monitor was full of motivation and enthusiasm in her free period so helped me arrange a monitor meeting for the next day and updating the monitor lists (I sacked three this week, four have left school and I recruited five new S1 pupils). She also helped create a competition for National Library Day – a simple prize draw for a book if people gave us their favourite books. Even better this can be combined with World Book Day when we will share the choices everyone made with the wider school population.

I also headed off to the religious, moral and philosophical studies department to claim the free stapler, hole punch and warning tape they were offering. I’m thinking a banned books display with the tape, the other bits were for the pupils to use.

By the time lunch came round I was looking forward to a wee break, enjoying my current book and some bran muffins (made in the microwave I acquired just recently for the library). Alas three different members of staff called  or dropped in one with a book query and two looking for computer bookings so in the end I managed five minutes and about two pages.

Lunch is 45 minutes but the library is closed for the first fifteen minutes (so that should my lunch fail in the half hour before, I still get time to eat) and I enjoyed chatting with the monitors (40 pupils who help in the library). Conversation included such fun topics as being told ‘I own more than the Pope’ (the premise for such statement being that the library is bigger than Vatican City – it isn’t and I don’t), what animal is currently on  my desktop (baby otters -squee!) and pondering if yellow can be worn by white people (it can’t). At 1pm the library opened to a throng of enthusiastic pupils and, with the S1 back, numbers were back up to the usual 100 plus. When the bell finally rang, I made sure pupils were leaving out the correct door as (and say it with me people) ‘the library is not a corridor’. A quick tidy round revealed lost property consisting of two craft and design technology folders, a pupil’s own book, and a wallet, all of which I sorted and left messages for the real owners to collect.

The afternoon saw two teaching classes, both S2 English. For the first one we talked about books vs movies (sadly they weren’t the keenest readers so choices were things like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Cat in the Hat). The second class typed up their folios of work rather than the genre lesson I’d planned (less effort on my part, though not as interesting for any of us). While supporting these classes I fielded queries for books and more requests to book computers. When the school day ended I encouraged those staying on to talk in quiet voices then I picked up my bundle for the pigeon holes and office and headed off to the office.

I picked up the post from my pigeon hole, apart from the usual stuff there was a free book from Pan Macmillan (thanks!). I dropped in the overdue notices, request slips and careers appointment slips (I support the Skills Development Scotland Careers Adviser who comes into school two days a week) to the various tutors trays.

I also caught an English teacher and chatted about resources in particular the continuing supply of the teen review magazine Teen Titles for the library and picked up yet more paper for the printers. Back up to the library to fix the printer, issue the two books I’d requested to myself (Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher and Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle), check my email one last time and sort request for books not on the catalogue. Then it was a  final tidy round, lights out, doors locked and the librarian has left the building.

To read another example of my day have a look at another (more teaching filled day) as tweeted by Rhona Arthur and my post on what I did last year for World Book Day (or more accurately what I didn’t).

What does a school librarian do anyway? part 4

Running a Library

On top of all that I have listed I also maintain and develop the physical library and it’s collections. This involves:

• Resource selection and book buying keeping abreast of current trends, special offers, online ordering
• Professional reading
• Timetabling
• Improvement Planning and Self Evaluation
• Preparation for events – e.g. National Poetry Day, World Book Day, or cross curricular projects
• Joint work with Careers Officer
• Stock edit
• Stock check
• Overdue loans
• Sorting Requested items
• Blogging or updating Glow pages
• Organising issuing and collecting of C2C catalogue
• Processing and covering new stock
• Budget considerations & balancing books
• Filing and shelving
• Library Management system housekeeping – ie. adding new S1 intake, running reports for library support, stock check
• Cleaning and tidying
• Signage and displays, posters and plants – creating a stimulating and welcoming learning area for the whole school
• Physical improvements – e.g. rearranging layout of whole library, moving the Careers Library, creating distinct study and learning areas
• ICT – essential maintenance of the 23 PCs and three printers
• Attend in-service training
• Prepare for inspection/ visits
• Prepare for my own Personal Review
• Recruiting, reviewing and training library monitors

I am involved in promoting the library and making sure that it meets or exceeds user expectations. I conduct regular surveys (results for which are processed during school holidays) amongst staff and pupils as well as take part in the national School Library survey week in November. I have spoken to teaching staff at in-service days about what they library can do to support them, write articles for every school newsletter and attend open evenings or ACfE nights. In addition I also regularly meet and communicate librarians, book sellers and publishers either within my own authority or out with to try and ensure I am up to date with resources and best practise.

A lot of this is done on a Friday afternoon or in the evening in addition to my working week on the understanding that this time can be taken in-lieu during the school holidays.

The End. Now no asking what on earth I do when the school is on holiday 🙂

What does a school librarian do anyway? part 3

Non-Curricular Support

Large numbers of pupils use the library outside of class (it’s open to pupils before and after school, as well as, at break and lunch). In 2011 a single week in November clocked 1676 pupils through the door outside of class times. Regular numbers at break and lunch are around about the 70 to 90 mark.

I try and encourage pupils to have ownership of the library and, on top of trying to meet book requests or get their help to suggest resources and improvements, I have forty-five regular pupil helpers. Around thirty-five of them are in daily and are working on the SLA (School Library Association) Pupil Helper Scheme. I co-ordinate and support these pupils, many of whom found school a difficult place to fit in or are classed as MCMC pupils.

The library provides a place of safety and support for all it’s users. 86% of girls and 79% of boys said they liked the library in a survey I conducted during the 2009/2010 session. This is supported both by the numbers through the door and the annual increase in book issues.

Pupils and staff also enjoy the fortnightly displays. Often created by pupils or based on their suggestions, these displays vary in size and scale some being only in the library while others involve the whole school. Recently they have included International Talk like a Pirate Day (find the Pirate Reading and get a prize), World Book Day (Get Caught Reading in the library and win an Easter egg), Caravan Holiday Reads, Vampires, LGBT reads, and so on. The plan is to promote a range of books as well as encourage reading and literacy across the whole school at different points in the year.

To further promote books and reading I run a library blog which I use to post book pupil recommendations (usually written in teaching classes), my recommendations and other book and writing related inspirations and ideas. The aim is to provide an outside of school resource that offers inspiration and reading news at anytime. It would appear to be working so far this year (Jan – March 2011) 108 people have returned to visit the blog after initially being shown back in January or December.

A large portion of my term time is spent supporting and encouraging pupils to ask questions and seek information. This part of my role is hard to quantify and lacks handy statistics. I get a wide variety of queries, problems and challenges to deal with during a very short period of time. For instance on the 3rd of March 2011 over the course of lunch (45 minutes) I dealt with;

1) A pupil saying “That is so gay- but not in a homosexual way” – prompting a wee chat about how that didn’t make it less homophobic language.
2) Explaining how to ‘find & replace’ in Word to a S6 pupil.
3) I untied a pupil who had been tied into his backpack (apparently it was his request, though he admitted hadn’t thought through how to get out). Also spoke to the pupil who’d tied him in about the appropriateness of this.
4) Explained that a joke is only funny if everyone thinks so and at no point is hitting someone in the windpipe funny (this was also logged on the school’s referral system).
5) Sympathised with an S5 girl with a swollen knee (sent her to the PSA’s to get help).
6) Helped solve the mystery of why the kid with OCD had two fewer books on his shelf than on Monday (someone had taken them out).
7) Was concerned to hear one of the pupils could be pregnant and passed that information on to those who could help her. (Completed my hand written evidence after the bell went).
8 ) Discussed why Rangers and Celtic players should play by the SPL rules rather than feel they can just act anyway they want. Tried to explain flip side to the whole ‘it’s just what you do’ attitude.
9) Named 12 birds beginning with the letter P.
10) Discussed a range of topics with a range of other pupils including cute animals, Justin Bieber and the fact that it was World Book Day.
11) Caught 11 pupils reading and added them to the prize draw.
12) Introduced a new library monitor to the team.

There is no way to place a value on these interactions easily, though I do have anecdotal evidence of pupils improved behavior or social skills as a direct result of my investment.

What does a school librarian do anyway? part 2

In addition I support teaching staff and classes by;
• Collating and finding resources –often creating intranet or internet pages
• Running a library blog so pupils can get book ideas and share their reviews plus get homework help away from school
• Creating and maintaining GLOW pages
• Teaching, or supporting class teachers, one off research or study skill lessons
• Reinforcing ideas and methodology
• Help with CPD requests, bibliographic queries and sourcing materials
• Promote and support school events.
• Book talks and reader development
• Running debates in lessons or helping pupils with presentations.

Barack Obama said that;

“Libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.”

Young people today have an increasingly difficult job to find relevant information in the amongst the bombardment of websites that a simple internet search provides. As a school librarian, helping pupils find and recognise reliable information is a key element of my role. To this end half of my work with S1 and S2 is spent on developing their study and research skills.

The other half of the time focuses on reading and books. Literacy is a key part of ACfE and I play a major role in encouraging pupils to read and making them aware of books that they might enjoy. For many the school library is their first experience of a library and my job is to make it easy to understand and to open their minds to the possibilities. Author Wil Wheaton commented that on being shown the library catalogue by his school librarian:

“…the library was transformed from a confusing and intimidating collection of books into a thousand different portals through time and space to fantastic worlds for me to explore.”

It is not enough to point them in the direction of the shelves, I have make suggestions, speak to individual pupils encourage them to try new books. I regularly do book talks in classes, blog reviews, a fortnightly display of books and a book of the week at the main desk.

For lessons run or supported by me I develop my own teaching materials or build on what the class teacher has (often this is simply an idea). It takes time to create, review, research and develop lessons and teaching materials. During term time I have no non-contact time as the library is only shut for my lunch during the school day (thirty minutes taken prior to the pupil lunch break). This means that much of this development has to be done during the school holidays.

Being open all the time also means that there is often little or no preparation time between classes which means I need to be more organised than others and rely heavily on time in the school holidays to complete tasks or claim back lost time. I have also been known to miss out on lunch to accommodate teaching classes (usually at least once a week) and there is an understanding that this time can be taken in-lieu during the school holidays.

Even when there are no teaching classes in the library there are usually a collection of S6 pupils or individual pupils sent to me for a range of reasons. Although mostly self-sufficient I find there are a regular range of queries from these pupils that I try and help them with. I’m also involved in helping with careers advice, particularly in offering help and guidance to S6 pupils involved with UCAS applications and helping with personal statements.

What does a school librarian do anyway? part 1

With school library services being cut, school librarian hours being trimmed back and possibly even removed entirely there is a growing concern with explaining to a wider audience what we do and the value of it. So my local fellow school librarians have decided to start with us all writing a description of what we do. Mine is a bit epic so I’m going to spread it over a four posts.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

The school library is more than just books – it is at the heart of the school. As the librarian I support the whole school, try to inspire a love of reading, and help pupils learn key information literacy and study skills that will help them throughout their lives.

“The role of school librarians in the secondary sector cannot be underestimated. Their understanding of different learning styles and collaboration with teaching colleagues enables them to act as a bridge between young people, teachers, information and the curriculum. Their potential contribution towards meeting the National Priorities for Education is therefore considerable.”
– HMIe in ‘Libraries Supporting Learners’

Supporting the Curriculum

In the 2009-2010 session 806 classes used the library from 15 different departments. This number has been growing steadily since I started in 2005 and I am expecting the 2010 -2011 session to be the busiest yet.

As a librarian I teach a combination of reader development and information and study skills lessons which can be divided into:

• 3 lessons for every S5 pupil as part of Study Skills covering bibliographies, plagiarism, note taking (for study, research and lectures) and website quality.

• 4 with every S5 pupil through English to encourage them to read and improve their literacy and discursive essay research.

• A weekly hour long lesson with the S1 autistic class where we look at using the library, book ideas and basic information literacy.

• Fortnightly lesson with S1 English classes on how to use the library, book ideas and basic study skills.

• S2 English classes come once every three weeks to develop their reading and library and research skills.

• 3 lessons with every S2 French class this year so they could develop their awareness of Paris and using books to find information.

• 1 lesson with every S2 PSE class to explain the careers library and help support subject choice.

I have strong cross-curricular links not only working with multiple departments on work but also many of the themes, ideas and examples link with the work done elsewhere in school. For example my key S1 project – “Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb” – covers mores more than 18 outcomes in A Curriculum for Excellence (ACfE). As might be expected most of these are in Literacy but it also includes technology and English outcomes and has links to the RMPS curriculum.

World Book Day and the day that was

World Book Day is/was today. It’s an exciting date in the librarian calendar that, this year, almost skipped by without notice in my library and school. Why? Well because I didn’t shout it from the roof tops and encourage (force) staff and pupils to join in.  There are a few different reasons but I think the main one is the staff all seem really busy. Seriously busy not just walking around with a pile of papers busy but actually run off feet busy. This is because the exams loom for the senior school and there are only 6 teaching weeks left! It may in part be because for the first year ever we had a week off in February.

I know, why would a week off be an issue? Well usually Feb is all about the build  for WBD, getting staff and pupils on side, but this year February seemed to end much quicker than I expected (plus my S6 promotion helpers were distracted by prelims before the holiday). Plus for the past few years the World Book Day joy has been over shadowed by the Maths department and their desire to celebrate ‘World Maths Day’ which has been the day before, after and same recently. The whole department get the kids playing online games and even more annoying it lasts 48 hours not a mere 24 as any normal day would (I regularly joke that you think mathematicians would know how long a day is – to which they reply” yes but it’s a day around the world so the sun rises in one place….”). It’s hard to compete with international online gaming even if it is maths games.

Anyway in the end I opted for subtle and I’m running a ‘get caught reading’ promotion all month.  You get seen reading a book in the library at break or lunch and you are in the draw for that week’s Easter egg (Cadbury’s of course). It seems to be working well and it has led to some surprising pupils being seen reading. There was also a paper quiz but that was unsuccessful possibly too hard but ultimately few seemed interested at all.

In short World Book Day for me at least was low on books. What it has had is drama. One of the S6 boys and I were having a chat about my role. We agreed that my spending time chatting and sharing information with the young people was important and being a friendly face was needed. We also agreed that while he was living proof that it can be positive (since he’s gone from banned to helping out) actually measuring this is an issue. So here are some highlights of my pupil interactions today:

1) Overheard  “That is so gay- but not in a homosexual way” – prompting a  wee chat about how that didn’t make it less homophobic language.

2) Explaining how to ‘find & replace’ in Word so a S6 pupil could change his best friends advanced Higher Geography project so that China/ Chinese was replaced with Cheese. The ‘cheese one child policy’ and the’ pregnant cheese mother’ had him (and I admit me) giggling far too much.

3) I untied a pupil who had been tied into his backpack (apparently it was his request, though he admited  hadn’t thought through how to get out).

4) Explained that a joke is only funny if everyone thinks so and at no point is hitting someone in the windpipe funny.

5) Listened as a S5 girl with a swollen knee cried on my shoulder at the pain (I really hope she’s going to A&E tonight I did suggest doctors back on Tuesday when the tears started) – NB: the shoulder is metaphorical at no point did I touch said child or see her knee.

6) Helped solve the mystery of why the kid with OCD had two fewer books on his shelf than on Monday (someone had taken them out).

7) Was concerned to hear one of the pupils could be pregnant and passed that on to those who could help her (more worried to hear the potential father was one of the few kids I’ve banned).

8 ) Discussed why Rangers and Celtic players should play by the SPL rules rather than feel they can just act anyway they want. Tried to explain flip side to the whole ‘it’s just what you do’ attitude.

9) Sympathised with a pupil who’d burned himself while saving his jotter from exploding milk (next tonight ‘when science experiments go bad’)  and laughed far too much when one of the girls made a jaw dropping comment and then hurriedly explained that she meant to think not say that.

10) Discussed a range of topics with a range of other pupils including cute animals, Justin Bieber and the fact that it was World Book Day but none of them knew.

Now how can I quantify that into a statistic?