The IdeaLab: Your “Idea Machine” for Enriching Your Students’ Learning

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The AASL Conference IdeaLab is a great way to “speed learn” and collect best practices and innovative ideas from school librarians and library educators from all over the U.S. It is billed by AASL as a “best practices showcase.” IdeaLab is the latest in the series of cafeteria-style sharing opportunities for AASL Conference attendees. The concept began in 2005 with the Exploratorium, became the IdeaXChange in 2014, and now evolved into the IdeaLab.

More than the name has changed. Alice Bryant, chair of the IdeaLab and librarian for grades 5-12 at Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee, says, “When asked to organize a poster-type session I thought long and hard about how to create a more innovative experience for our participants.  We took the IdeaXChange concept and added the electronic component to make the poster sessions innovative, creative, and more visible.  With 32-inch monitors for all presentations, those attending will be able to see the many offerings in this year’s IdeaLab with ease.  Presentations come from many topics in school libraries.  From STEM to STEAM to Common Core, we have something for everyone.  We attempted to provide offerings for all ages and stages within the K-12 learning environment.  We hope those attending will enjoy seeing real projects, and real experiences of students and teachers with great visual representation” (Bryant).

The IdeaLab was like a beehive Thursday afternoon with school librarians buzzing around the 26 tables, each with its presenters with their innovative and highly adaptable ideas. I chose 3 to check out in more depth but wish that I could have posted about every way in which school librarian’s and library educators are expanding students’ learning.


At Table 1, Jennifer Milstead and Stephanie Meuer from the Sierra Middle School in Colorado presented their “Investigating the Holocaust: A Collaborative Inquiry.” For two to three weeks each year as middle school students read The Diary of Anne Frank, their learning is enriched by having students learn about using primary source materials with 10 virtual exhibits on the library’s website. Each exhibit introduces an artifact such as a photo, provides brief information, and gives a task for the students to complete. For example, Task 1 asks students to record what they “wonder” about the photo on the library’s Idea Wall. The exhibits were curated by the librarians from such sources as the Anne Frank House, the US Holocaust Museum, and using Library of Congress primary source analysis tools.


P1070415Table 3 presenters Ohio school librarian Christine Badenhop and Julie Mangas, Ohio Graduates Coordinator, promoted their “Super 7” Literacy Program for teen parents still in high school. It’s based on “The Very Ready Reading Program” by Eric Carle and Upstart Promotions. “We’re trying to close the reading gap by kindergarten,” Christine explained. Each month teen mothers in Christine’s high school meet at lunch to learn important skills for helping their children learn literacy skills. For example, they learn to read a book aloud, and through a grant, they get to keep the book for their child’s beginning library. At the end of the school year, each teen mother has obtained 9 books for her child. Teen mothers learn a child age appropriate (an affordable) craft. They learn about early childhood songs and nursery rhymes to teach to their children. Lastly they have a healthy snack, so they are learning about good nutrition, too.

Bedford High School (New Hampshire) Jessica Gilcreast at Table 9 promoted Heirloom Histories, her district’s unique primary source database begun as a collaboration between one history teacher and the library. As events in history were taught, students talked with their families and often found connections between the historical event and their families. For example, a teen found that a grandfather had served in the Vietnam War and shared a photo. Using a Google form, the student describes the “artifact” such as a photo and another primary source database item is created and posted online. Jessica stated, “Now history is not being lost, and the idea spread like wildfire.” It began with one teacher’s efforts and blossomed into other students beginning to think of their own contemporary history by saving prom photos, concert programs, and other “historical” artifacts from their school years. They’ve created their own archive.

After visiting the IdeaLab, take your collection of ideas, QR codes, bookmarks, and handouts, and create your own innovative adaptations. For more information, check out the names and titles of other IdeaLab tabletop presentations.


Bryant, Alice. Email to author October 12, 2015.

Image Sources:

MacEntee, Sean. “Ideas.” Creative Commons Attribution License.

Adams, Helen. IdeaLab photos. November 5, 2015.


Author: Helen Adams

A former school librarian in Wisconsin, Helen Adams is an online senior lecturer for Antioch University-Seattle in the areas of intellectual freedom, privacy, library ethics, and copyright. A member of the AASL Knowledge Quest Advisory Board, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, and a KQ blogger, she is the author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library (Libraries Unlimited, 2013) and contributor to The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2nd edition, Libraries Unlimited, 2017). Email:

Categories: AASL National Conference, Community

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