January’s Featured Learning Commons: Debbie Thompson at Dousman Elementary

To kick off the 2016 Learning Commons features, I am thrilled to introduce Debbie Thompson at Dousman Elementary in Wisconsin, who is graciously giving us a peek into her Library Media Center. In our interview, she reflects on how her role has changed since her library’s renovation in 2012 and with the more recent addition of a makerspace. Get ideas for great projects and check out her wonderful website. It just might make you want to visit her in Wisconsin, if only it weren’t 0 degrees there right now…hope the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, Debbie!

Dousman Library (1)Tell us about Dousman Elementary and how your library is becoming a 21st century learning commons.

Dousman Elementary is a 4k-5th grade public school serving 440 students. It is one of four elementary schools in the Kettle Moraine School District, a League of Innovative Schools member. The shift from a traditional library media center was a project that happened over two years and was finished in the summer of 2012.  The PTO raised $30,000 dollars toward the makeover and we also received a $10,000 grant from Coca-Cola.  The library was a generously sized space, but it didn’t function very well for collaborative and flexible learning.  There was a large office space that had become a dumping ground for obsolete equipment.  We tore the wall down between the office and the learning commons and turned it into a flexible learning space with MACs for video projects, whiteboards and flexible furniture.  The Circulation desk and office functions now take place in the center of the learning commons.  It is similar to having an open kitchen where you have to be disciplined and hide the “dirty dishes.”

Before renovation:


After renovation:


How has a transition to a learning commons changed teaching and learning in your school? Perceptions of the space and your role?

Teachers used to bring their whole class to the library for book exchange or for a class.  The space is still used for whole class visits, but it is busy throughout the day with small groups of students with and without a teacher.  I am seen less as the keeper of the books and more as a teacher.  More of my time is spent in the classroom teaching collaboratively, so the learning commons space needs to function without staff for most of the day.  We have self checkout for students in 2nd-5th grades.  We have arranged our chapter book section by genre and we  have identified subjects in the non-fiction with blue shelf markers with words on them like elephants, dogs etc.

Are you included at the curriculum mapping table at your school? How have you integrated library and information literacy skills into the curriculum? Do you also teach digital citizenship? In an integrated way or one-offs?

The media specialists (we still use that name) in our district are each on a curriculum subject team so we do have a seat at the table and a voice.  Library and information skills are taught through collaborating during research projects.  I do still teach digital citizenship in some mini-lessons.  Some of the topics are hard to integrate (cyberbullying, etc.).

What kinds of technology do you have in the space & how is it used?

We have four desktop Macs and four iPad minis in the learning commons.  We also have a film studio area. We are a Google Apps for Education school district.  We have chromebooks 1:1 in third through fifth grades and shared carts in kindergarten through second grade.  The chromebooks are in the classrooms in carts or power towers.  We recently had coding classes in different grade levels and students bring their chromebooks with them to the learning commons.  At the beginning of this school year I did a Boot Camp for 3rd-5th grade since it was our first year of being one to one.  We covered Apps and Extension, Gmail, our AUP, use of YouTube, E-books, Google Classroom, Chromebook Care and Keyboarding all in the first few weeks.  Teachers were willing to invest the time to start them off on the right foot.

Do you have a Virtual Learning Commons? How is this different than your old library website?

Our website is used heavily by students and staff.   It is still a one-way street of pushing out content.  When I work with teachers and students I usually am teaching from the library media page so our students and staff are very comfortable navigating it.  We have invested in quality subscriptions like BrainPop, Tumblebooks, and PebbleGo.  We also have Overdrive and FollettShelf.  E-books have been a challenge.  We find that students and staff still prefer physical books.  I am hoping for the “Netflix” of e-books/audio that has an affordable model for schools.

DSC02977 (1)

Do you have a makerspace?

We are in the second year of having a Makerspace.  The Makerspace is my responsibility.   We have SnapCircuits, MakeyMakeys, a Mindstorm robot, a Lego wall and some WeDo kits.  We are working on finding more ideas for our primary students and are adding a workbench and a marble run.

How much of your collection is digital vs. print? How do you drive students toward digital?

It is hard to assign percentages to digital vs. print.  We currently have Overdrive and Follett Shelf, but we also have subscriptions to Tumblebooks, Pebble Go and BrainPop that are important parts of our digital collection.  The adoption of e-books has been slower than I thought it would be.  Our students still prefer print.  Reading e-books on a chromebook isn’t ideal even though the apps work well on them.  Staff still tend to use print over digital.  They know the collection and are comfortable with that system.


Can you give some examples of successful reading initiatives, makerspace activities, collaborative project-based learning, marketing campaigns, etc that you feel highlight the LC’s impact on student achievement/learning?

We held a family Cardboard Challenge in November.  We had low turnout, but the families who came had a great time.  We have a set of Think Pads with Minecraft EDU on them and they have been a huge hit.  Right now I am using them during lunch recess with the plan to transition them into the curriculum.  I created a Makerspace brochure to help parents understand what a Makerspace is and to solicit volunteers and donations.  We recently had a Donor’s Choose grant funded for a 3D printer.  Our first project begins this month.  Kindergartners are sketching a toy figure that our 5th graders will design using TinkerCad and print.  I am collaborating with our Art teacher on this project.  I have two parents who come every week to help with the sewing machine.  We hope to expand our connection with parents who have skills to share.

What worked well in planning the space? What would you have done differently?

We had the help of a professional designer who had children at our school so I feel that we had a great experience planning the space.

What are your frustrations/challenges?

It is a challenge to keep up with all of the new learning (Minecraft, troubleshooting the Mindstorm robot, 3D printing etc.).

What’s your best advice for getting teachers on board with using the LC’s resources?

I have found the best way to get teachers involved is to teach with them and be in their classroom.


Thanks for sharing, Debbie. I hope you all are inspired to get out there and collaborate in 2016!


Author: Cassy Lee

Cassy Lee is a middle school Teacher Librarian focused on education equity, empathy, and empowerment. She is the recipient of the 2020 AASL Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award and the 2018 SLJ Champion of Student Voice. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, son, and a steady stream of foster dogs. You can find her on Twitter at @MrsLibrarianLee and at CSLA in February!

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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1 reply

  1. Looks great, very inviting and interactive!

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