Reader Survey: URL ideas

I’m getting ready to make some improvements here on my blog, and I’d love to get the opinions of my readers.  I’m planning on purchasing a domain for my blog so that it looks more professional, but I’m debating whether I want the url to be Intarsia for Technicals or Diana L Rendina.  Intarsia for Technicals is the name of the blog and would seem the right fit, but a lot of people have trouble with the spelling, and professionally, my name is better known than my blog.  However, I’ve noticed that most other educators save their name for their professional site where they post presentations, their CV, etc.  I currently keep both on the same site, but I might consider separating them in the future.  Please take a minute to vote in my poll and help me decide which route to take.  Thank you!


Help us trick out our MaKeyMaKeys

Help us trick out our MaKeyMakeys! Donate to our DonorsChoose project and use the code INSPIRE to match your donation (good through Sept 21)

Our new MaKeyMaKeys

Our new MaKeyMaKeys

At the end of last year, we successfully raised funds through DonorsChoose for a set of 10 MaKeyMaKey kits for our library.   If you aren’t familar with MaKeyMaKey, be prepared to be amazed.  It’s an invention kit that you can plug into any computer.  When you connect it to conductive items with alligator clips, those items can become a computer key.  Combine that with a simple coding program like scratch, and bananas can become piano keys, playdoh can become a video game control, copper tape on a paper tube can become a flue.

My students are very excited about the new MaKeyMaKeys.  I let our afterschool group tinker with them the other day, and they immediately started coming up with all sorts of ideas.  At first, they made simple controllers with Play-doh and spoons.   Then they started coming up with more ideas – what if I wrap my arm in tin-foil to serve as the ground?  Then both of my hands are free.  What if one person is the ground and the other person is the space bar?  Then we can high five each other to activate the key.


Aluminum foil gauntlet as a ground

Already though, we’ve started hitting the limitations of our supplies.  There isn’t enough Playdoh for all ten MaKeyMaKey groups to have a variety to choose from.  And while paper clips, spoons, and bananas are fun, imagine what these kids could make with copper tape, conductive thread, conductive ink and aluminum wire?  So we decided to create another project to get more MaKeyMaKey supplies.  We’re hoping to take advantage of Hasbro’s offer to match projects where half the cost comes from Playdoh.  When this project is funded, it will help us to ensure that none of our students have to fight over who gets the green Playdoh again, and it will increase the variety and creativity in their projects.

High fiving to make the sprite jump

High fiving to make the sprite jump

Please visit this link and donate to and/or share our project to trick out our MaKeyMaKeys.  Use the code INSPIRE until Sept 21 to double your donation.  Thank you!

The Epic Library LEGO Wall: How to Build One

The Epic Library LEGO Wall


Yesterday I wrote about everything that led up to us creating our Epic Library LEGO Wall – check out the post here.  Today is going to be more of a how-to.  I’ve had many, many people ask me how to build a LEGO wall, and while there’s tons of great information out there, I’m going to put my own spin on things, so here goes.


Our plywood mounted and ready for the LEGO wall

The supplies will vary depending on what size of a LEGO wall you want to build.  I decided to go all out and make a giant 80″ x 80″ LEGO wall so that it could be the centerpiece of our library Makerspace.  Of course, any size LEGO wall that works in your space is awesome.

Here’s what I used:

  • 80″ x 80″ sheet of plywood (note: 80.5 would have been better.  Can use MDF also.  You’ll want 10 inches for every baseplates, with about 1/16 inch between each one)
  • Concrete screws
  • 3 10oz tubes of Liquid Nails or similar glue (I actually used a different brand, but can’t find the name now.  Ask the people who work at Home Depot or Lowes for advice.)
  • Caulking gun
  • 64 10″ x 10″ LEGO Baseplates/Building plates

Cost:  The plywood and screws were free for me as the district provided them, but plywood is pretty inexpensive anyhow.  The glue was $15, caulking gun was $6.  The baseplates currently sell at two for $12 at Kaplan, costing a total of $384, which we raised through DonorsChoose.  So a LEGO wall of this size runs about $400 total.



Caulking guns are fun

I highly recommend using a caulking gun as it makes it SO much easier to evenly distribute your glue.  Plus, it makes you look really cool.  Don’t get too close to the edges of the baseplate, or glue will bleed through, and it’s a pain to clean up.  Glue all four sides of the baseplate, then add an x in the middle and a few dots of glue in between.  That’ll hold it really well.


Use caulking gun to put glue on the baseplates around the edges and in the center. NOTE: Use more glue than I did. Some plates aren’t holding well.

The first plate you glue down will be the most important one, as it will affect the layout of all other plates.  Take your time and make sure that you align it perfectly.  You may even want to use a level.  As you glue the baseplate on, take into consideration the direction of the text on the studs – if you look closely, you will see the word LEGO written on every stud.  Most people will probably never notice or care, but if it bothers you (or you know if will bother your students) make sure that LEGO is always going in the right direction.  Or don’t.  It doesn’t affect functionality at all.

It’s recommended that you tape down your first baseplate with duct tape to secure it.  I didn’t, but my glue was holding pretty well.  If you find it slipping, tape it down.


First baseplate glued on.

After you get the first plate down, start working in rows to add more plates.  As you add each plate, attach it to surrounding plates with LEGO bricks.  This will keep every aligned well so that you’ll be able to build seamlessly, and it will help to anchor the baseplates as the glue dries.  This will leave a 1mm gap between each plate, which should be taken into account when you decide how large your plywood will be.  Since this gap shows, you might want to paint your plywood if wood showing through is a concern for you.  I didn’t see the need to, and I think it looks fine.


Gluing down more baseplates

Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account that 1 mm gap between each plate when I got my plywood, so when I got to the last plate, I had about a 1/2 inch overhang.  To fix this, I cut off two rows of studs on my baseplates.  It’s surprisingly easy to do.  I placed LEGO bricks across what I wanted to cut to give me a perfect line that would still allow building.  Then I scored it several time with a box cutter.  After a few passes, the remaining portion broke right off.  I placed the raw edge to the inside so that the original edge is still on the outside.

This solution worked for me, but if you can avoid having to cut the baseplates, it’s better.  Try to not be like me and start off with the right size of plywood.


Stylish band-aid from cutting myself on a tape dispenser, not with the box cutter.

Once everything is up on the wall and secured comes the hardest part – waiting.  Put up some cute and clever signs, barricade it with caution tape, just do what you have to do to keep the kids from messing with it.  The glue needs 24 hours to completely cure, and it would be horrible for all your hard work to go to waste.


Putting on the last brick. Then comes the waiting.


After 24 hours, let the kids loose and watch the magic happen. I couldn’t resist adding some LEGO works on my own, adding pixel art versions of Mario and Link, as well as the Epic LEGO Wall words.

LEGO Wall art from the first day

LEGO Wall art from the first day

I would love to see every school build a LEGO wall – they’re so much fun.  My students love it, and it’s a great opportunity for them to exercise creativity, spatial thinking, fine motor skills, math, etc.  Plus, it’s just fun and stress relieving.

Are you building a LEGO wall in your school?  Please share and let me know!  I love seeing all the awesomeness :)

The Tale of the Epic Library LEGO Wall: Part 1

Putting up the final piece

Putting up the final piece

I’ve been dreaming up the idea of a LEGO wall for a long time.  I don’t know exactly when I first got the idea, but I do know that it came from seeing a LEGO wall on Pinterest sometime last spring.  The image stuck with me in my head, and I kept thinking about it.  Towards the end of last school year, my lunchtime coding club worked through the curriculum, earning us a sizeable DonorsChoose gift card.  We used that to purchase phase 1 of our LEGO wall plus some LEGOs and LEGO books.  After getting back this year, I took a look at the planned space with some of my students and we realized that we wanted to go all out and make this a huge 80″ by 80″ LEGO wall.  We created another DonorsChoose project for the remaining baseplates, and it was funded in a few weeks.

I kept tweeting out our LEGO walls plans as they were coming to reality, and it was getting some good attention.  Other teachers and librarians were getting inspired and creating their own LEGO walls.

It was so exciting to see so many others embracing this idea and going forward with it.


And another one…

Another awesome LEGO wall

Now that our LEGO wall is finally up, my kids can’t wait to start using it.  Tomorrow, I’ll be posting a detailed post on how we put it together, and what it looks like once the kids start building.


Sign says: Please do not touch... yet... (You can wait one more day for the epicness)

Sign says: Please do not touch… yet… (You can wait one more day for the epicness)


Our first weeks back at Making


A couple of creations left by our after-school program

A couple of creations left by our after-school program

We’ve been back at school for a few weeks now in my district, and the library’s been busy.  All the sixth graders received orientation over the last week, and we’ve had almost every student come through the library at least once for book checkout.  Our Maker Corner has been quite active.  Our afterschool program is temporarily located in the library while our gym is being re-roofed, so we’ve had plenty of students with time on their hands to make some awesome creations.


Students showing off a K'nex chain

Students showing off a K’nex chain

I love that the teachers in my school have embraced our Makerspace as an incentive for students.  Teachers will write passes specifically for students to come tinker as a reward for improved behavior, when a student finishes up their work early, etc.  A lot of kids will also take a few minutes to make while waiting on their classmates to check-out books.  That boredom would often lead to behavior issues before, but now students have something to keep them engaged while waiting.

Cool octagonal prism

Cool octagonal prism

My students have been favoring a lot of geometric shapes lately.  We keep a display on top of our low bookshelves of things that students have created, and often these displays will inspire other students and start new trends in what they’re making.  It’s so fun to see how students will take an idea and make it their own.


The Cube

The Cube

Our redecorated Forms Center

Our redecorated Forms Center

I’ve been engaging my student assistants in making lately too.  On days when checkout wasn’t busy, I’ve had them help me assemble new displays, build objects with the K’nex and LEGOs for display, and redecorate our forms center (where we keep applications and permission slips related to the media center) with duct tape and silver sharpies.  They LOVE being given jobs like this, and it gives them a greater sense of ownership in the library.  I could have redecorated that ugly cardboard forms center myself, but by giving it over to one of my students, it gave her a chance to express herself.  Now she’s proud to show it to other students and tell them that she made it.


A LEGO scene

A LEGO scene

The LEGOs section has been active, but not a whole lot has been coming together here.  I’m still waiting on the district maintenance to come out and mount a plywood board to our wall.  Then we’ll have our LEGO wall, and I think this area will quickly become the most popular spot in the library.

The Great Library Makeover – Part 1

The Great Library Makeover Part 1

I realized the other day that while I’ve been posting tons of pictures of our library makeover on Instagram and Twitter, I had yet to properly blog and show off how amazing the library looks.  So this post is Part 1, since we aren’t quite done with everything yet.  You’ll get to see our fiction section, reading nooks and brand new cafe.  The instruction area and Makerspace are still works in progress – so I’m waiting until they’re a little more done to make the big post on those areas.

Norms posters - originals via the, with colors and fonts changed to match library

Norms posters – originals via the, with colors and fonts changed to match library

I wanted to set the right tone for the beginning of the school year, with a focus on creating a culture of camaraderie, creativity, and collaboration in the library.  I chose to set the media center norms with posters from the amazing Krissy Vensodale of Venspired.  I tweaked them just a bit to work with our library’s colors, but the sentiments are still the same: We are a team; We try our best; We learn from our mistakes; We create; We respect each other; We celebrate each other’s successes.  I love that this is one of the first things that my students and teachers see when they come into the library.

New catalog station

New catalog station from the IKEA As-Is section

We repainted the library over the summer as part of our Lowes Toolbox for Education Grant.  The beautiful blues and greens really brighten up the library, and it creates an atmosphere that is vibrant and calming at the same time.  You’ll see them throughout the posts I’ll be writing – it’s made such a huge difference.

I spent a lot of time this summer going to IKEA to get little details that help make the library nicer.  One not-so-little detail is our new catalog station.  It’s a former employee station from IKEA that I found in the as-is section for $22!  I couldn’t resist that price, and I love how it looks.  It has nice little cubbies on the sides – we keep our loaner books for students who have overdue or lost books here.

Our amazing new reading cafe!

Our amazing new reading cafe!

This has been one of the biggest new things that our teachers and students love.  My supervisor bought these for our library from Demco (these are the tables and these are the chairs).  These have been INSANELY popular. Teachers love sitting here during their planning period.  Students love them for working on homework and eating snacks.  Parents visiting our campus will use them to chat with their child’s teachers.  I’ve heard many comments from students and adults that it makes the library feel like a Starbucks, only cooler (and without coffee for the kids).

Our new book display rack

Our new book display rack

This new book display rack was an investment I decided to make to create a little more space in our reading cafe.  I used some of our bookfair funds from last year to get it from Demco – it’s pretty economical for its size.  You can see the red racks we had before in this post.  My library is on the small side for the size of our student population, so when I found out I was getting the cafe tables and chairs, I knew that something had to go.  I decided to change out our red display racks (which didn’t really fit with the new color theme) for a more compact book display.  This one holds as much as one of the red racks, and I think it makes the area much more user friendly.  I’m repurposing one of the red racks for our Makerspace – you’ll see those results soon :)

reading nooks

At the end of the school year last year, I rearranged the fiction shelving units to create two nooks in this area.  This also created more visibility in this area, and allowed me to create a little more space in the computer lab.  I’ve moved some comfy furniture over here, and my students love sitting and reading or chatting with their friends.  I plan to add in some charging stations over here later.

What do you think of the change-ups?  How have you changed up your learning space this year? 

Book Review: Girl, Stolen

Girl Stolen Book Review

My students have been telling me to read Girl, Stolen ever since it was available at our bookfair a few years ago.  I finally got around to it this summer, and now I see what all the fuss was about – this is a really great, gripping story.  Here’s my review from GoodReads:

Cheyenne had fallen asleep in the back of her step-mom’s car. When it started moving, she didn’t think anything of it. Until she realized that someone else is in the car – with her still in it. Griffin was only stealing a car, he never intended to kidnap someone. He doesn’t know what to do – Cheyenne has pneumonia and is blind – so he takes her back to his father to figure out what to do. But when his father discovers who Cheyenne’s powerful family is, he demands a ransom. And the question becomes whether or not she will make it out of this ordeal alive.

This gripping, suspenseful book switches back and forth between Cheyenne and Griffin’s perspectives. It’s a great choice for reluctant readers – pretty much every kid I’ve recommended it to has loved it. There is one attempted rape scene and some discussions of rape, and discussions of abuse and drugs. Nothing too major though.

Weekly reads: August 24, 2014


*Welcome to Weekly Reads.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo throughout the week, I come across a lot of great resources that I think others would benefit from.  This post is my place to bring together some of my favorite finds of the week and share them with you.  Enjoy!*

My DonorsChoose project got fully funded last week!  Thanks to donations from my PLN, family, random strangers and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, our LEGO wall will start going up in the next week or so.  Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to get immediate updates; I’ll be writing a longer post on here once it’s all finished.


Learning Spaces

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Instagram Display: #StewartReads

Our #StewartReads Instagram display

Our #StewartReads Instagram display

At a recent professional development day in my district, one of the workshops focused on creating displays that promote literacy and reading in your library.  One of the examples was a “get caught reading” display, where the media specialist took pictures of students reading in the library and displayed them.  This got my gears turning.  On Pinterest, I had seen several pins of Instagram displays, and I loved the idea of bringing something digital into a physical form.  Thus, the #StewartReads display was born.

Making sure students know my Instagram handle

Making sure students know my Instagram handle

I’ve been using my @MrsRendina account for about a year now to promote things that are going on in the library with my students.  It’s been an amazing tool – my students love to see themselves being pictured at different events, seeing something they made in our Makerspace featured, finding out what new books are out. And I post an occasional cat picture too :)

But not all of my students have Instagram accounts.  And Instagram is blocked by my district’s web filtering, so the only way my students can see the posts is by using their data plans or checking Instagram at home.  Which they do, but I still recognize that this doesn’t reach all my kids.  After thinking about the display ideas at the workshop I attended, I had the perfect idea – create a physical board of Instagram photos.  And focusing them on reading and books – catching students reading in the library, pictures of new books, bookfair activities, etc.  We’ll be using the hashtag #StewartReads on all of these posts, so the digital version will be easily searchable.

Our new hashtag to promote reading at Stewart

Our new hashtag to promote reading at Stewart

I love that this display will be both physical and digital.  I think that it’s going to be a great way to engage my students with what’s going on in the library.  I’m really proud of how it’s come together – it makes for a compelling visual display, and it’ll be constantly changing as I post new pictures on my Instagram account.

The window behind our checkout desk

The window behind our checkout desk

Book Review: The Here and Now


A little back story here – back when I was working on my Library Science degree in 2008, I took a class on young adult literature.  One of the books I had to read for that class was Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and I loved it so much that I proceeded to read all the sequels.  So when I got my hands on Ann Brashares’ latest book, The Here and Now, I was eager to check it out.  It did not disappoint.

Here’s my review on Goodreads:

Prenna comes from a horrible future – a place that has been devastated by mosquito-borne disease. She and others from her time travel back to 2010 in hopes of having normal lives again. But there are strict rules – they are not allowed to interfere with the lives of time natives, to make themselves known. But Ethan saw Prenna when she first arrived, and their lives continue to intertwine after that. When the two of them discover that they can change the course of the future and stop the plague, they have to decide just how far they’re willing to go.

This was a beautiful, magical book that deals well with the concept of time travel and it’s potential consequences.