Letters for Justice: Empowering Young Voices on Topics that Matter

There’s a lot going on in the world right now and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many current issues being debated and decided on in our country and around the world.  As a teacher librarian, it’s challenging because I want to support all students and families knowing that I might not personally agree with their perspectives.  I make sure that I step back and listen to the students, support their research and perspectives, and check my own beliefs.

Recently, Ms. Olin, 5th grade social studies teacher, came to me with an idea. She wanted to get students thinking about current US & World issues and considering what their own perspectives were based on the facts of the issues. She also wanted them to know that their voices mattered in the world and that they could get their thoughts out to local, state, and national representatives as well as the general public to have an influence on decisions being made.

Ms. Olin started this project in her classroom by sharing the book I Have  a Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres. This sparked discussion about basic human rights and current issues in the world. She also shared news sites with them so that they could start reading current articles about various trending topics, especially if they weren’t familiar with the current topics being debated. Through these sites, students began to choose a topic that they were interested in, curious about, or passionate for. Sites included Newsela, CNN Student News, PBS News Hour, and Time for Kids.

After two days of exploring, students selected their topic.

In the library, we focused on the importance of raising our voices when we have concerns. I read excerpts from Be A Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson.

“Don’t wait. Don’t wait to be powerful, to change the lives and communities around you significantly.”

I also read excerpts from It’s Your World by Chelsea Clinton.

“We can–and should–respectfully disagree with others who have reached different answers from ours” and “Even if we disagree with one another, it’s important to recognize what the facts are”.

Ms. Olin and I both encouraged students to look at issues from all sides and to gather as many facts as possible. With those facts, they could form their own opinions on the issues and brainstorm some possible actions they hope are taken.

We took some time to look at the Letters to the Next President project to see letters that were written by students from many location about a variety of topics. Students could sort the letters by their own topic and see what other students were saying.

As students looked at example opinions and continued to gather facts, they started filling out organizers to get their own thoughts together.  In class, they began writing letters, protest signs, and editorial cartoons to express the facts and their own views.

5th grader's editorial cartoon #editorialcartoon #cartoon #politicalcartoon #studentvoice

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5th grader's editorial cartoon. #studentvoice #politicalcartoon #cartoon #editorialcartoon

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Finally, students came to the library to begin sharing their voice.  We spent some time talking about how we can make our voice visible. We could of course mail the letters and artwork to their intended recipients, but how else could we share our voice? I was able to talk to the students about my recent recognition as an AASL Social Media Superstar for Sensational Student Voice and how social media and collaborative tools like Flipgrid allow us to spread our voices to an even larger audience.

We hope our voices are heard by our local, state, and national representatives, but even if they aren’t, we can share our voices with others and offer perspectives and actions that might encourage them to support our cause or make the world a better place.  As students finished their work, they recorded their voices in a Flipgrid so that others can consider their perspectives and possibly join their collective voice.

We hope you will take time to listen to each student. If one of the voices speaks to you, give them a response.  Better yet, if they inspire you, consider writing your own letter and adding your voice to our grid.  We invite your students to join our voices as well.

As we were closing our time in the library, some of the students spoke up and said, “I bet Mr. Trump won’t even read our letters.” This was a great opportunity for Ms Olin and I to repeatedly say to the students, “Your voice matters”. We talked about collective voice, and how sometimes a single voice isn’t heard by someone like the president. However, that single voice can inspire other voices who come together collectively around a common cause. This was a great closing because even as an adult I sometimes wonder why I should even take time to call or write my representatives. However, I was reminded that our individual voices do matter and collectively they make impact.

 

The Meaning of Home: A 5th Grade Art Project

For the past month of our 5th graders have been exploring the meaning of home through art. They began their journey by reading Home by Carson Ellis and watching a video of Carson in her home.

They brainstormed what symbolized home for each of them. It is more than the physical building. It’s what you miss when you leave. It’s what comforts you.  It’s what makes you feel at home.

Using a variety of materials such as tissue paper, cardboard, construction paper, paint, and more, they began to construct a scene.  A portion of every student’s scene was made using a 3Doodler pen. These pens warm filament into a steady flow of material to 3D design in a freeform style. It took some tinkering to get used to these pens, but once students figured out the best strategies, they were designing swings, trampolines, bedrooms, trees, and more objects that symbolized home.  This work began in the library and continued in art until students finished.

As students finished their work, we began to construct an exhibit on the shelves of the library. Students filled out an artist statement to accompany each piece so that people touring the exhibit could learn more about each representation of home.  They also took time to record a Flipgrid to show and talk about their art.  This allowed people who aren’t at our school to also take a tour and meet the artists.

Click to hear the voices of our artists

We also wanted to inspire our youngest artists with our project, so once the project was on full display, we invited Kindergarten classes to come to art class with each 5th grade class.  The 5th graders were in charge of the lesson and tour (with the facilitation of Ms. Foretich, art teacher).

5th grade is reading Home to Kindergarten and sharing their art projects #art #home #librariesofinstagram

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The Kindergarten classes started on the carpet. A 5th grader read Home by Carson Ellis and students viewed a few of the Flipgrid videos. Ms. Foretich invited students to think about some questions they might ask the artists as they toured the exhibit. During this time, the rest of the 5th grade class was making sure their art pieces were ready and waited on the Kindergarten to begin touring.

Kindergarten is hearing all about our 5th grade Home exhibit. #librariesofinstagram #home #art #studentvoice

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Classes began wandering through the exhibit and listening to 5th graders talk about the process and materials of their art. One of the special things was when a student would make a connection to a piece of art and share a special moment about “home” from their own life.

The Kindergarten students left the library buzzing with excitement and talking about a project that they hoped they got to do in 5th grade. I’m sure Ms. Foretich is already brainstorming what these students might do next year so they don’t have to wait until 5th grade to do a project like this one.

This project was filled with student voice and ownership, and we learned something about each student that we might not know. It was also filled with perseverance and creativity. We were so impressed with what the students created. When we take time to get to know our students, it leads to connection, understanding, and new conversations. I would love to think about more opportunities to make these connections, especially earlier in students’ elementary years so that we can grow together through the year.

What represents home for you?

Poem In Your Pocket: Connecting Our Voices Through Poetry

For 2 solid days, students in every class have been visiting the library to share poetry into our open microphone for poem in your pocket day.  As always, this was a special day where every single student in our school had an opportunity to step up and share their voice through poetry that they carried in their pockets.  Many students shared original poems which ranged from silly to humorous to scary to sentimental to observant.  Many students also shared favorite poems that they copied from our large poetry collection in the library.  Sometimes it takes a lot to get up in front of your peers and read aloud, but I love the accessibility of poetry. It can be short but powerful.  It can give you a chance to shine before your nerves kick in.  It can quickly create reactions from your audience. It creates moments.

As usual, there were many special moments.  Teachers shared poems from their phones in their pockets.

5th grade shares a big variety of poetry #poeminyourpocketday #barrowpoems #poetrymonth #librariesofinstagram

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A student who spoke limited English, broke out of her comfort zone to share a poem all in English with a friend standing by her side.  PreK poets recited their very first poems of their school career as their teachers whispered the words into their ears.

My airplane poet #prouddaddy #poetry #poetrymonth #prek

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5th graders filled up their poetry slot by repeatedly going to the microphone to share poems from the books displayed on our poetry tables.  Families who couldn’t be here with us in the room were able to watch their children perform via our live Google Hangout.  Sweet poems about brothers were shared.

A sweet brother poem #poeminyourpocketday #barrowpoems #poetrymonth #poetry #librariesofinstagram

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Tweets rolled in via our Twitterfall wall.

Poems, snaps, and claps #librariesofinstagram #poetry #poetrymonth #barrowpoems #poeminyourpocketday

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A retiring paraprofessional shared her final Poem In Your Pocket moment.

Poetry readings all day long! #poeminyourpocketday #poetry #poetrymonth #librariesofinstagram

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If you missed any of our poetry readings live, you can watch any of the archives by visiting our Smore.  Take a moment to look at all of the poets in the gallery below.

 

Join Us for Poem In Your Pocket April 6 & 7, 2017

One of our newer traditions at Barrow is to participate each year in Poem In Your Pocket Day.  This national event takes place on April 27 this year, but due to our state testing, we will celebrate a bit early.

Prek poets prepping for poem in Your Pocket #studentvoice #prek #writing #poetrymonth #poeminyourpocketday

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On these days, all students carry an original or favorite poem throughout the day and come to the library for a 20-30 minute slot to share poems on our open microphone. I setup a poetry atmosphere with decorations, and each student has a moment to share poems.  We celebrate with rounds of snaps and quiet claps.

We also broadcast this live on Youtube Live(Google Hangouts On Air) so that other schools, family, and community can join in the 2 days of fun.  If you watch live, you are highly encouraged to tweet your snaps of celebration for students so that they can see your tweets on our media center projector.  They love to get shout outs.

Visit our Smore page for a full schedule as well as links to every live feed.  As each feed ends, it is automatically archived to Youtube for your future enjoyment.

 

https://www.smore.com/x4hh5

It’s already amazing to see where in the world people are taking a look at our event.

 

The Winner of Our Global Book Talk Challenge

For several weeks, people around the world have been contributing to our 30-second book talk Flipgrid.  In March, we narrowed the videos to 16 and have been inviting a global audience to listen to the videos and vote on the brackets each week.

After many, many votes, we have a winner!  Congratulations to Evin for her book talk of It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton.  Adaline’s book talk of I Dissent by Debbie Levy was a very close 2nd place.  Both of these students will receive a special recognition on our morning broadcast as well as gift certificates to our local bookshop, Avid Bookshop.  Please help me in congratulating our winners, but more importantly, continue to share great books with one another!

Preparing for Mystery Skype with Centers

Our 3rd grade classrooms love to mystery Skype.  Have you tried it? In a mystery Skype, 2 classrooms connect with one another but don’t say where they are from.  The two organizers of course know, but the students don’t.  By asking a series of yes or no questions, students try to narrow down to a country, state, city, and even school if there is time.  Mystery Skypes work best when students are prepared in advance and every student has a job to do.  There are many example of jobs to assign in a mystery Skype such as greeter, researcher, questioner, scribe, and photographer.

Ms. Haley, a 3rd grade teacher, met with me to talk about some skills she hoped the students could work on in advance of a mystery Skype.  I started planning a series of 5 centers for students to rotate through.  Ms. Maher, our tech integration specialist, worked on scheduling mystery Skypes via Twitter and Skype in the Classroom so that all 3rd grade classes had a connection.

Two classes at a time came to the library to engage in the mystery Skype centers.  This meant that me, the two classroom teachers, my library intern, and a parent or collaborating teacher could run one center each.  This also meant hat about 8 students would be at each center for 10-ish minutes.  It was very fast-paced, but it introduced to students to many aspects of a mystery Skype and they continued the work in their classrooms throughout the week leading up to the connection.

 

I made a Google doc with all 5 centers and teachers shared the doc with their students through Google Classroom.  Each student had a copy to edit.  Here’s a look at what happened at each center:

Center 1 Question Writing

I reference Pernille Ripp’s great post on good mystery Skype questions.  Students read her examples and then worked on writing their own possible questions from narrow to more specific.  My intern worked with students to think carefully about the kinds of questions they were writing.

 

Center 2 Google Tour Builder

Ms. Haley wanted students to have a sense of where they were in relation with the rest of the world, so I had students start a Google Tour Builder at either their home address or our school address. Then, students built a tour of places they have lived, visited, or want to visit in the world.  This allowed them to be able to reference their current place in the world with other locations

Center 3 Georgia

A big part of a mystery Skype is sharing facts about your city and state with the connecting class.  Students of course love to learn that there are McDonald’s in multiple places in the world, but it’s also fun to share unique facts that make your state what it is.  A pulled a large stack of books about many aspects of our state from Weird Georgia to books about each region.  Students gathered facts that they could share with our connecting class at the end of the Skype.

Center 4 The United States

Ms Haley wanted us to review cardinal and intermediate directions.  I have a small set of National Geographic Kids Beginner’s United States Atlases.  The atlas divides the country up into regions such as northeast, southwest, etc. so I asked students to look at each region and count the number of states in each region, name some of the states, and pick out some facts about those states.  My hope was this would give them some familiarity with how the US is organized and lead to questions about specific regions or help them answer questions from our connecting class about the regions.

Center 5 Landmarks

Our 3rd graders study several important rivers and lakes as part of their social studies, so this center included books about all of those rivers and lakes as well as other landmarks around the country.  Students used these books to identify landmarks and then write questions that could be asked using those landmarks.  Example:  Is your school west of the Mississippi River?

This was my first try at doing this kind of preparation for a mystery Skype.  Each center was based on past experiences and skills that I saw a need for as well as the skills brought up by the 3rd grade teachers.  We will see how this translates into our connections this week.

Looking back, I wish we had more time at each center in the library, but it was also nice to quickly go through the centers to get an understanding of each one and then independently work on them back int he classroom over several days.

Mystery Skype preparation centers #research #mysteryskype #3rdgrade #librariesofinstagram

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What have you done to prepare for a mystery Skype? Leave a comment!

 

Barrow & CCSD Maker Faire

A goal I’ve been trying to achieve for awhile in our makerspace is to have ongoing individualized projects.  In the fall of this year, the media specialists started brainstorming having a district maker faire to showcase projects from all of our schools.  In the spring, Gretchen Thomas, had over 30 students in her UGA class that collaborates with our makerspace.  Normally, 4 students from Gretchen’s class come to our makerspace on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but with 30 students, it would be hard for her students to make it to our school multiple times.  We started pondering this new dilemma and realized that Gretchen’s dilemma aligned with my long-term goal.

Gretchen divided her class in half.  Half of her students continued Tuesday/Thursday makerspace times, and the other half became maker faire mentors on either Tuesdays or Thursday.  I gathered students who were interested in making something for maker faire and put them into a Tuesday or Thursday group.  Gretchen did the same with her students.

Maker faire projects and leprechaun traps #makerspace #ccsdmaker #librariesofinstagram

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At the first meeting, Gretchen’s students learned more about what students were wanting to make. I supported these conversations too, and we started gathering materials students needed for projects.  Each Tuesday and Thursday since February, these maker faire students have worked on an individual project while regular makerspace continued to run simultaneously.  It was loud and chaotic but productive.  Our makerspace storage also became very unorganized and I realized that I have a lot of work to do in order to store multiple on-going projects.

Maker faire is in full swing #makerfaire #makerspace #ccsdmaker #librariesofinstagram

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During our very first school maker faire, we setup tables around the library to showcase projects. I created a schedule for teachers to signup to bring their class.  Some times classes came and walked through to look.  Later in the day, the maker students were at their tables to demonstrate their products and answer questions.  Again, this was loud and chaotic, but it was organized and productive.

Welcome to maker faire #ccsdmaker #makerfaire #librariesofinstagram

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Many kids found ideas that they were excited about and wanted to try out.  Many kids got to test some of the products that were made.  Gretchen’s entire class also came during the day to listen to students talk about their projects, keep tables organized, and introduce students to Ozobots and Cubelets.  As usual, miraculous moments happened throughout the day.

 

Here are a few:

Dominique developed her leadership skills as she ran the robotics table for most of the day.  Two students who had made robots were unable to come, so she stepped up and demonstrated their robots for them and kept the table orderly and made sure people had a turn to try out driving a Finch robot.

Speaking of robots, one of the robots had a name: Bob Jello.

Throughout the day, his personality seemed to develop on its own as kids began to talk about Bob Jello rather than just talking about a robot.  Before we knew it, the other robots had been deemed the “evil kitties” and a battle ensued between Bob Jello and the kitties.  Students were huddled up cheering on the robots and it had me thinking about how much we could do with storytelling and robotics.

Evil cats vs Bob Jello #battlebots #ccsdmaker #makerfaire #makerspace

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My daughter, Alora, made a butterfly sculpture with a 3Doodler pen.  She taught group after group about how the pens worked and managed kids taking turns and making very small sculptures. It was fun to see her as a 1st grader teaching kids in much older grades.

Several students made projects with their dads, and it was fun to watch the students share about their work with others. Patrick’s dad came and presented alongside him to talk about catapult gliders.  They had a tri-board, video, and several models.  It was a popular table that many students were interested in exploring.

Father and son sharing glider catapults at our maker faire. #makerspace #makerfaire #ccsdmaker #librariesofinstagram

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Linden had a freestyle Tic Tac Toe game he made with his dad, and we loved learning the story of how the game originated at a restaurant table using sugar and sweet n low packets.

Finally, Forrest made  documentary with his dad about Zepplins.  This is a topic that many kindergarten students might not take on, but Forrest was super knowledgeable and shared his expertise along with playing his video.

Kindergarten film maker chatting about Zepplins. #makerfaire #ccsdmaker #librariesofinstagram #documentary

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Josie had made a robot from carboard and duct tape, and she really wanted to make it move.  She used littebits and fishing line to make its arms move up and down. Rather than just sit at the table the whole time talking, Josie worked!  She continuously made improvements to her design so that the arms would move more and more.  Students started giving her ideas of what she might do next, and she may even attempt that soon.

Cardboard robot using @littlebits #makerspace #ccsdmaker #makerfaire #librariesofinstagram

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Our intern, Jen Berry, worked with four 1st graders to submit maker projects, and all four of them had projects that were of high interest to visitors.  Many students wanted to make their own terrarium after seeing Zarema’s 2-liter bottle terrarium.

Prepping for tomorrow's maker faire #ccsdmaker #terrarium #makerfaire #makerspace

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Students made art with Shanti’s scribble bot.  Parachutes were launching and being dreamed up thanks to Eric and Kaden’s garbage bag parachutes.

Scribble bot #makerfaire #ccsdmaker #librariesofinstagram #makerspace

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Last minute entries rolled in like Aley’s handmade wooden guitar he is using for his music project.

It was so hard to capture every moment.  It was so exhausting, and I’m already thinking about how I will organize it differently next year to involve more students and more classes touring the projects, while also calling on more volunteers to give me a bit more sanity.

Many of these projects will now be showcased at our district maker faire which will take place on Saturday April 1 from 2-4:30PM at Clarke Central High School.  I highly encourage you to attend if you can.  There will be over 100 makers featured from Prek-12th grade. It’s a great opportunity to see the amazing creativity we have in our district.

I’m so thankful for Gretchen and her students for supporting our students. It is a great collaboration that benefits many student voices.  Thank you Gretchen for staying most of the day to help and to Jen Berry for jumping in the chaos and helping the day be a success.