Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bridging Stories and Stem

I love receiving new books for the library.  Opening up a book delivery is like my birthday and Christmas and unexpected Starbucks rolled up all in one.  I just get all ridiculously full of smiles.  A recent delivery to the Eubank library included an all new favorite, This Bridge will Not Be Gray by Dave Eggers.

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray by Dave Eggers

 Can I say how much I love this book?  Written by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Tucker Nichols, this book explains the early days of the the iconic Golden Gate Bridge including the conversations surrounding what color the bridge should be painted.  Eggers writes in a playful and engaging way and Nichols' art leaps off the page.  Best of all?  This book is a natural lead in to incorporating STEM activities with students.

As an introduction to this story Eubank students explored the factors engineers would need to consider when designing a bridge, including among other things, weight bearing structures and stress tests.  To explore this idea further students looked at three paper column shapes, a square, triangle and circle and predicted which shape would be able to hold the most weight.

Three paper columns, circle, triangle and square.

Students predicted which shape would bear the most weight in books then we gathered together and got to stacking!  You know that tension that can be felt when you're turning the handle of a jack-in-the-box?  You're just waiting....waiting.....then blam!  Yep.  That's what it was like in the library.  We all held our collective breath as books got stacked one after another, erupting in surprised laughter and calls of "WHAT?!  NO WAY!"  as we tested and tallied each column.

Comparing weight and stress points

Students were surprised again and again to find that the circle shaped column would hold the most weight.  This is where they were challenged to take a close look at each column and identify where the stress break occurred.  The question of the day - Why does this work?

We will continue to look at the art and science in this book as well as explore other  related books

Bridges! by Carol A. Johmann and Elizabeth J. Rieth

Pop's Bridge by Eve Bunting

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Aspiring to be Mock Worthy

40 days

No, that’s not the number of shopping days remaining before Christmas (23 for that count).  Nor is it the number of days until my birthday.

It is the, however, the number of days remaining until the ALA Youth Media Awards winners will be announced. 

The 2016 Youth Media Awards will be announced at 8 a.m. Eastern time on Monday, January 11, 2016, during the ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibition in Boston. 

My students and I will be exploring a handful of books that just might catch the Caldecott committee’s eye this year and conducting our own Mini Mock Caldecott.  Along the way we will be taking a close look at what criteria a book’s illustrations must stand up to as part of the Caldecott process. 

We will be looking at these books:
Last Stop On Market Street by Matt De La Pena
Gingerbread for Liberty cover
Gingerbread for Liberty by Mara Rockliff
Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle

Image result for Boats for papa
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley

Image result for Float by miyares
Float by Daniel Miyares

Fire Engine No 9 by Mike Austin

While the list of books my students will be considering during their Mock Caldecott is small, the number of big ideas behind the process is unlimited.  Let the selection begin!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

I Think I Need A Chicken and why Kelly Jones is to Blame.

I'm sure you've experienced this.  I mean surely - we're librarians, teachers, lovers of the printed word.  Heck - go on Pinterest and you'll find half a dozen cartoons that speak to this very problem:

It's one of those things where when you finish a book you discover that what your life is missing is exactly laid out, word for word, in the pages of a book.  In my case when I closed this book my first words were,

"I think I need a chicken and it's all Kelly Jones's fault."

Kelly Jone's is the author of the enormously enjoyable book Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
Danger! This book can create extreme chicken fascination

 Written in a voice that reminds me of Roald Dahl and including a wonderfully strong lead  character named Sophie, this book is just the things that we want our kids to read:

Diverse characters?
Engaging story?
Laugh out loud elements?
Events readers can relate to?
Unusual Chickens?


I must warn you though.  You just might find yourself fascinated with chickens when you put this book down.  I certainly did.  So much so that I convinced my closest friend, who is also a children's librarian, to read the book.  She gave me the same look that you're probably making right now.  The "Okay, let's just smile and nod, and slowly back out of the room" look.   Did she read the book?  Yes.  Is she now fascinated with chickens?  Well, she created a giant red barn made out of cardboard for her students to sit and read in and posted chickens around her library, you be the judge.

My new found respect for poultry of the printed kind led me to explore what other great chicken books were out there that I may have been missing.   I was genuinely surprised!  Some of the titles were familiar, but others were wonderful discoveries.

A Chicken Followed Me Home! by Robin Page

Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road by collected authors/illustrators
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

So what's an elementary librarian supposed to do with so many fabulous chicken choices? Collaborate with an equally poultry-obsessed fellow colleague to create a 5 week unit about libraries, books and being a great patron through literature that explores chickens of course!  School is now well under way and my students have completed 6 weeks of instruction in the library.  During this time we've explored a strong set of Essential Understandings:

  • Libraries are more than just books
  • Libraries are organized in purposeful ways
  • The library is everybody's resource and everybody needs to take care of it
  • My library is only as GREAT as I am (GREAT is an acronym for positive traits in the library)
  • Libraries come in all shapes and sizes

Our library instruction has included an investigation of  real eggs (from jellybean sized hummingbird eggs all the way to fossilized dinosaur eggs), a library scavenger hunt using plastic eggs and clues about sections of the library, as well as investigating story telling using shadow puppets.   All while still being connected to chickens!

Kindergartners explore fossilized Hadrosaur and Oviraptor eggs

Students opened plastic eggs to discover clues about the library

 If you had asked me three months ago if I'd be contemplating the practicality of owning my own chickens or focusing my teaching around these birds I would have given you "the look" too.  But, this is what can happen when you read a good book, and isn't this the type of passion we want to instill in our young readers? Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer is one of those books.  I love the way this year has "hatched".   Give this book a read - you won't be disappointed.  Don't say I didn't warn you though when you find you need a chicken too.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Shameless Attempt to Read More Books

I wouldn't call myself a competitive person.  I was never the kid who would freely take a dare, and would probably run screaming from just the words "Double Dog." I'm not coordinated enough to be a competitive athlete, and I'm just as likely to not purchase Marvin Gardens when playing Monopoly if I know you're trying to collect that real estate.  But, give me a personal best challenge, a competition against me and myself,  and it's a whole different story.

Reading Lady by Sadie Wendell Mitchell, 1909

As an elementary school librarian I'm constantly trying to think of ways to engage my students to read more books.  Sharing book trailers, author interviews and videos, and creative book displays are all tactics I've gleefully tackled in shameless attempts to get kids to read.  And most recently I've started thinking about personal reading challenges. 

Personal Reading Challenge

A personal reading challenge is, in my mind, a guide that a reader can use to help them focus their reading and perhaps even increase the amount of what is being read. These challenges can be participated in privately or publicly.  There are some fantastic Reading Challenges available in the library world, for example, I've followed with fascination the work of elementary librarians, Colby Sharp and Mr. Schu who have created the Newbery Medal Reading challenge as well as the work of the busy Librarian and his yearly Shelf Challenge.  Both of these challenges inspired me to look at what I did as a teacher librarian to encourage my students to read, read, read.

My first attempt at a student Reader's Challenge focused on the different genres that were available to read in the library.  My students could pick up a copy of a reader's passport and read their way around the library focusing on one genre at a time.  Students could have their passports stamped when they checked out a book from a specific genre and those who read their way around all of the highlighted genres could add their name to a display of Well-Traveled Readers.

A similar Reader's Challenge that I've sponsored in the library is Library READ-O (similar to bingo).  Students used individual READ-O sheets to help them select titles for check out and kept track of the books they read on their game sheets.  Students could work for a traditional bingo or for the more motivated, a complete black-out (reading all suggested).  This fall I'm considering creating a Reading Challenge list for my students similar to the list shown here.

Taking the Challenge

Summer is the perfect time to tackle a Reading Challenge and this weekend I'm diving right in with a 48 Hour Reading Challenge! I won't be going it alone though - I've convinced my husband and 8 year old to join me.  We've stacked our books, selected our snacks, and plumped up our pillows.  This weekend we'll be taking the challenge (competing for our personal best) to read, read, and read some more.

Game on.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Non Listed - My Summer Reading

 The dust has cleared, the inventory has been completed.  The bedside alarm has been set permanently to snooze (at least for the next two months anyway). A beach was walked and the garden has sprouted, it's time to dive into my non listed list of summer reading!

As an elementary librarian I read a lot of books - there are the books I'm reading weekly as part of a lesson, the books I'm reading for teachers as I compile resource materials, and the books, old and new that are part of my library that I'm exploring or reacquainting myself with. But this is just the beginning, the tip of a literacy glacier with only surface reading exposed to the naked eye.  I find that despite my best efforts during the school year I just can't read every book I've recorded on my want-to-read lists, let alone on my mental lists - there's the new award winner, the book recently reviewed in the School Library Journal, or the popular book from my collection that checks out as soon as it checks back in. Even as I stand in line with the copy that caught my eye at the bookstore, outlet mall, and grocery store I know my time is limited.  A decision had to be made - then suddenly I figured it out.  I didn't need a summer reading list - I just needed to take a good look around.

Building my non list

Every summer it's the same, after the first couple of weeks of toe dipping into summer - I start to get serious and the search begins.  The search for each and every book that has accumulated during the school year,  waiting, covers beckoning, biding their time, knowing it was just a matter of time.

 They're Everywhere.

I find them in the work bags I brought home for summer, the back seat of my car, the pocket in the recliner, resting on the baker's rack behind the dining room table, on top of the piano, the box under the guest bed, the cranny behind the computer, stacked on the kitchen counter, and nestled in the magazine rack, tucked into the spaces below my nightstand and precariously perched on the corner of my dresser - I seek them all and pile them together into multiple towers that simultaneously make me want to laugh a bit maniacally as well as step back in surprise.  My summer reading list has just come together.  The trick is to read the stacks down faster than the accumulation of more must reads. I relish this challenge and summer is the perfect time for this!

Let the summer reading begin!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lincoln's Hat - Exploring Primary Sources

Sometimes the hardest part about teaching is helping students to make connections with what they are learning.  As an elementary librarian, I have the advantage of an amazing arsenal of children's literature within inches of my fingertips.  A well crafted book can pull young learners in and help them navigate the world beyond their own small radius.

Researching outside your own personal sphere, however, can be challenging for young students  - particularly for those, like mine, who have had limited opportunity for enriched experiences outside the classroom. Sometimes, a book alone isn't enough to bridge the gap.  Here is where I look at the many possibilities provided by digital learning and smile gleefully!

Stoneware and Stovepipes 

With an almost magical click of the mouse I can take my students in a matter of seconds to view the works of a master potter before reading about his life.

Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill

While studying about the life of the slave artist David Drake, time was taken to stop and explore the Natural Museum of American History's virtual collection of one of Drake's stoneware jars.  Using our library ActivBoard students could zoom in so close as to see beyond the inscription left by Drake's hand down to the individual drips of glaze that run down the side of the pottery.  We used this virtual exploration as a way to gather knowledge about Drake.  What could we figure out about him from an actual object - something he had created, a primary source?

Primary Sources were also used to help students go beyond Lincoln's iconic stovepipe hat to learn more about the actual man whose head it sat upon. Imagine exploring the contents of Abraham Lincoln's desk after reading his biography all while teaching about what primary sources are and how we can use them to guide our understanding and research!  Can it be done? Oh yes my library friends.  Oh yes.

Abe Lincoln's Dream by Lane Smith

Abe's Honest Words by Doreen Rappaport

Like nosy neighbors we peeked at letters written to Mary Todd, checked his math homework and yes, explored that famous hat - in all it's 360 degrees glory!

We continued our primary source practice by using portraits and photographs of Lincoln from the Library of Congress to construct a timeline of his life.  Student partners used image sets of Lincoln that had been paired with QR codes.  The QR codes were set to take students to individual Library of Congress entries that provided information about the particular primary source being viewed.  I've never seen my students so excited about constructing a timeline of historic events!

Using a QR reader and iPods to explore

Scanning QR codes to visit the Library of Congress

Primary sources provide historical dates

Primary Sources - Primary Goal

I see my role as an elementary librarian as more than a Shepherd of good books.  It is my calling, my duty even, to help my students expand their world, understanding and horizons by opening doors to them that they never even knew existed.  Primary sources have an amazing way of doing that. By incorporating digital learning and primary sources we can jump off the pages of a good book right into the real world just beyond, including what exactly lies under Lincoln's Hat.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Full STEAM Ahead - Integrating Art and Math in the Library

"Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties."
 - Gail Sheey, American author and journalist

If this quote is accurate then March must be a month chock full of creativity.  Here in the Land of Enchantment March is full of standardized testing, ping ponging weather, 5th grade romances with a 48 hour life span and everyone eyeing the calendar and silently counting the days until spring break.  When uncertain March Madness is the norm what better time to hang on to innovative and creative instructional tie ins?  It's been the grounding anchor for me for sure.

 Eubank has recently become a Kennedy Center Partner school. This means that as our school works through it's redesign to become a full Fine Arts K-5 magnet school, instructors are learning with support from the Kennedy Center how to use art integration as a way to teach core standards.  Much of what students and classes have been experimenting with and working on is showcased through two different Fine Arts expos, the first, earlier this month, showcased intermediate work, the second, in April, will showcase primary grades. Because the library services all grades preschool - 5th grade the efforts in the library will be seen through both expos.  For 4th and 5th graders, the focus of our efforts has been using primary sources to study Jazz and the Harlem Renaissance; the end result which was shared in our school expo was, in my opinion, pretty amazing.

The Bee's Knees

This spring my students have been exploring the Harlem Renaissance, American Jazz and Duke Ellington.   It's been crazy good.  We've incorporated social studies, music, art and math standards into a final product that was worked on collaboratively by 6 different classes (4th - 5th grades). To bring back a Jazz-era phrase,  "it was the bee's knees!"

Throughout this study students focused on the life of Duke Ellington, the rise of Jazz during the Harlem Renaissance and what exactly jazz music is.  We listened to Ellington's greatest hits during our check out period, watched Brain Pop videos about this time period, and even practiced identifying the rhythms and sounds of specific jazz instruments.  Not to mention the pretty fantastic books we've used along the way:
Jazz on a Saturday Night  by Leo & Diane Dillon

Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler

This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt

Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Collaborative Art

As a culminating project for each class, the students worked collaboratively to create a coordinate grid portrait of Duke Ellington based on this photo:
 This was such a fun way for students to work together in the library.  If you've ever used mystery graphs with your students as a way to teach grid coordinates then you're already familiar with this idea.  An image is divided into equal pieces and then assigned specific coordinates. The picture my students used was divided into 88 equally sized pieces, 11 rows of 8.  Each row is assigned a letter in alphabetical order, and each column is assigned a number.  On the back of the image each square is labeled with it's specific coordinate.  The image is then cut apart and each square glued to an index card and labeled with it's coordinate.

Over a space of four weeks my intermediate students worked on this portrait after check out and our specific lesson for the day was finished.  Students would choose a square based on it's difficulty (I had the squares sorted by how detailed they were) and then recreate the design for a larger square I had pre-cut for them.  As squares were completed the students and I would work together to glue them to the matching coordinate on an enlarged graph I had drawn out on bulletin board paper.

A single 8.5 x 11 picture of what we're hoping to create

The paper is flipped and divided into 1 inch segments

Each segment is further divided into smaller equal sized squares and then labeled with coordinates

Cut the image into strips then individual squares

The results were pretty fantastic!

 My students and I were pretty "Jazzed" by the whole project - there was lots of learning, movement, creativity, and fun - exactly what's needed when the winds of March begin to blow!