Finding Barrow’s Stories

Imagine the untold stories that could be hiding in a school building that was built in 1923.  Our 5th grade students are working to uncover some of those students in a project called the Barrow Oral History Project.  This project is funded through a grant from the Athens Area Community Foundation.  The grant purchased 12 digital cameras and books about oral history and photography.
This week we kicked off our project with a session where students learned an overview of the whole project.  Then, students were placed into four groups to rotate through 4 centers.  These centers are the result of many collaborative meetings and emails to plan what students would need in order to take on a project of this size.
Ms. Biehl is leading a center exploring mounds and mounds of scrapbooks, artifacts, and loose photographs from Barrow’s history.  Students are looking at how the school has changed over time and thinking of questions they might ask our interview guests.  Students are also brainstorming ways that these scrapbooks and artifcacts might be shared with others.  At the moment they are stored in a cabinet our of sight.
Ms. Mullins is working with students in the computer lab to explore oral history resources online.  There are many great examples of oral histories that have already been done such as Story Corps and the Veterans’ history project from the Library of Congress.  Students are also using this time to look at the oral history books that were purchased through the grant, and teachers are taking some of these books back to the classroom to read aloud.

Ms. Beshara is exploring interview etiquette and interview question development.  She is using the question generator from the National Day of Listening as well as having students develop their own questions to pull from for their interviews.

I (Mr. Plemmons) am training students on how to use Audacity to record their interviews as mp3s.  Students are interviewing one another in order to explore the software and walking though all of the steps to export the file to a shared folder.  Students are also learning how to use the digital cameras to take photographs of their interviewee and upload their photos to another shared folder.

Our interviews will take place on March 16, 17, and 18th.  Following these, the students will make final products that will be used to build a webpage of oral history from Barrow.  I can’t wait to see what stories we uncover.

Any Which Wall

If you were to stumble upon an object that looked like a Genie’s Lamp, you would know what to do wouldn’t you? You would probably give it a few rubs with your hand and wait for the genie to come rumbling out of the end. He would grant you three wishes with a few conditions attached to them. But….what if you stumbled upon a magical object that you didn’t know the rules for. How would you figure out how it worked? Would you get frustrated and just give up or would you collaborate with your friends to figure it out?

In Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder, Henry, Emma, Roy, and Susan do just that. They discover a magical wall in a field. The wall obviously has rules for how it works, but what are they? Through many different wishes and adventures this team of adventurers work together to unlock the mysteries of the wall, and they meet many interesting characters along the way.

I loved the moments in this story where Laurel Snyder was writing directly to the reader. Within her writing she put out into the open the rules of books and how narratives work. This direct conversation to the reader made me think of Kate DiCamillo’s style of writing in The Tale of Despereaux.

I won’t call this book flawless, because there were a few jumpy moments in the story where the writing quickly sped up to move further into the story, and I felt like we missed some entertaining adventures from the group of kids. However, I really enjoyed this book overall and think that many students would love the adventure, magic, and mystery of this great chapter book.

Reviewed by Mr. Plemmons

Student Voice, Student Choice Grant

Today, a group of students from 3rd-5th grades met in the media center with their lunch to complete another step of our Student Voice, Student Choice Book Club.  This club is funded by a grant from the CCSD Foundation for  Excellence.  In the grant, students have a budget to purchase books for our media center.  Students must spend their entire budget, which means they may have to combine their budget with another student in order to spend every penny.  The books will be ones that are of interest to the students in the group and books that are on a level that the students are comfortable with.

Today’s session featured Jim Boon, a representative from Capstone Press.  We will be using this company to purchase our books.  He brought numerous samples of books for the students to look at and read.  Students created lists of books that they were interested in.  Next week, each group of students will sit down with a Capstone catalog and their list and begin to spend their budgets and finalize their orders.

Once the books arrive, the students will be the first to read them and will write reviews to share with the rest of the school.  Then, the books will go into circulation for all students at Barrow.

Check out today’s excitement.

Media Festival

Today we held a media festival to showcase inquiry projects from Ms. Hicks and Ms. Biehl’s spectrum class.  I recently wrote about the process for creating these projects and you can find that information here.  Today was a day to celebrate the work that these students accomplished.  Third and Fourth grade classes came and viewed the projects, while the students talked about what they had learned in doing the projects.  There was also a session for parents, mentors, and district personnel to come and view the projects as well.

This truly was an incredible process and collaboration between Ms. Hicks, Ms. Biehl, Mr. Piazza from the district, and myself.  Students were also strongly supported by mentors who were experts in the fields that students were investigating.

Take a look at the pictures of everyone enjoying the festival, and also take some time to view the student projects on our media center webpage.

A Newbery Honor Delight

When I was little, my Mammaw and I shared many stories and books with one another.  One book that she shared was a book that she had read as a child and fallen in love with called A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter.  I read this book when I was a boy and loved the character, Elnora Comstock.  She was poor but still found joys in life through her explorations of nature.

As I read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.  I felt those same feelings and connections that I found in A Girl of the Limberlost.  Calpurnia Tate is a girl growing up in 1899 at the turn of the century.  She is a girl from a wealthy family of debutante traditions.  Calpurnia is the only girl of the family, so her fate seems to be sealed as living the life of a housewife her entire life.  Her grandfather, however, builds a relationship with her that stirs her in other directions.  He is a scientist and explores the natural world with the scientific eye of Charles Darwin.  His laboratory is filled with specimens and experiments, and he teaches Calpurnia how to keep a scientific notebook.  As her relationship with him builds and her curiosities for science grow, Calpurnia begins to question the expectations of her becoming a housewife and yearns to be a university student.  Will she be able to break through the firm traditions of girls being the wife, mother, housekeeper, and cook?  Will she grow as a scientist?  Will her parents honor her greatest wishes in life?  Join Calpurnia in her journeys and thoughts today by reading this book.

I always feel a deep connection with characters who break the molds that have been created for them by past experiences and traditions in their family.  I was the first person in my family to go to college and leave my small hometown of Blue Ridge, GA.  Unlike Calpurnia’s family, my family was very supportive of my efforts, but it was still difficult to go down a different path that what was the norm.  I encourage all readers who read books like these to think about their dreams and what they need to do in order to nurture those dreams and make them a reality.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate recently was recognized with the Newbery Honor for 2010.  For the most part, the writing was very engaging, especially during the times that Calpurnia interacted with her grandfather.  There were a few chapters where we learn more about the family that I thought were a little slow to read.  If you find yourself slowing down with this book, give it a few more pages or even chapters and things will pick back up.  In the end, I was very pleased and satisfied with this read and actually wanted it to keep going.  If you choose to read this book, I would love to hear what you think.

Reviewed by Mr. Plemmons

A Modern Hansel and Gretel

Have you ever wondered what really happened to the witch from Hansel and Gretel? You don’t really think she just disappeared after the story was over do you? Witches have a way of popping back up even when you think they are gone. In The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children, Keith McGowan gives us a modern update on what has happened to the witch in her last couple of hundred years.

The story opens with an excerpt from witch Holaderry’s journal. In it, we learn just how complex of a scheme this witch has in getting children she can cook for dinner. It seems that she makes it very convenient for today’s parents to easily hand over their children for her dining delight. From drop boxes outside movie theaters to her convenient “pick-up” service, Holaderry offers parents many options for handing over their kids. She knows that kids don’t just wander into the woods these days, and she has thought of every possible way to earn a meal.
This story lets us explore the witch’s thoughts through her journal, but it also focuses us in on one brother and sister and their story of trying to escape the clutches of the witch. This book is filled with sarcasm. If you like reading stories like Lois Lowry’s The Willoughbys or Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, then you will most likely enjoy this story. There is a lot of humor that can only be picked up if you are familiar with how sarcasm works.
This story also holds a lot of mystery for the reader to uncover. In fact, the author leaves many pieces of the story unanswered. Some might say that this is poor writing because by the end of the story, there are several loose ends of the plot still dangling in the air. Some readers might enjoy being able to imagine what might have happened to these loose ends, while others might get frustrated with this and not enjoy the story. I invite you to decide for yourself. Overall, I enjoyed reading this story and didn’t mind that there were pieces left untold. I will say that you should be familiar with the tale of Hansel and Gretel and know its German roots before you read this book.

Come check The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children out today and you might just start noticing things in your world that could be part of Holaderry’s plan to capture her evening meal!

Persuasive Podcasts

Ms. Biehl and Ms. Saxon’s second grade Spectrum class have been persuading once again!  After they wrote persuasive letters to me about books that we needed in our media center, they worked with me on writing book reviews in persuasive ways.  We studied the book reviews on School Library Journal, Spaghetti Book Club, and our own media center blog to see what was needed in a book review.  Then, students thought of ways to include persuasion to try to convince people to read the books they were writing about.  They worked on these pieces in their classrooms.  The students came back to the media center once again with their final drafts and recorded their writing as a podcast using Audacity.  The podcasts can be found on our media center webpage under book talks. and they are also linked here.

The Lorax Yoko’s Paper Cranes Beezus and Ramona

Hardy Boys: Ocean of Osyria Cowboy Jose Bad Case of the Stripes

Bubble Gum Bubble Gum Dinosaurs Walked Here Empress of China

I Spy Fantasy Lightning Thief The Little Island

Wild About Books Caps for Sale I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato

Jackalope Merry Christmas Princess Dinosaur Adventures of Daniel Boom

Little Witch’s Black Magic Cookbook Tin Lizzie Zen Ties

John Philip Duck


Today was an exciting day for Barrow School.  Our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes participated in a virtual presentation using Elluminate.  Natalie Hicks, a spectrum teacher, organized guest speaker Lincoln Larson from UGA who presented to Mrs. Teri Sheppard’s 3rd grade class about global warming.  His presentation was broadcast via Elluminate to the other 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classrooms.  During the presentation, students were able to virtually raise their hand and step to a microphone to ask their questions to the speaker.  He then answered them for all to hear.

Today was important because it was a trial run for future webinars that we might offer to students at Barrow.  Using a program like Elluminate allows us to bring in speakers that we might not otherwise be able to afford or travel to.  We had tremendous support from Steve Piazza, Joel Frey, and Kevin Smith in order to have the technology running smoothly for teachers.  The teachers were fantastic because they stepped up and tried something they had never done before and became learners with their students.

We learned a lot from this morning’s session.  For example, we will do more planning with our next guest speaker so that he/she builds in space to pause and allow classrooms to have discussions before continuing in the presentation.  This will allow classrooms to type in their thoughts in the chat feature or prepare questions that they might ask as a class.  We’re excited about this opportunity, and we were very proud to be the first school in the district to try this with students.  We can’t wait to see where this leads us!  Thank you Mrs. Hicks for getting this off the ground and started in our school!