Wonder is Truly Wonderful!

I started hearing about the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio a few months ago thanks to Mr. Schu at Watch. Connect. Read.  The more I heard him (and others) begin to talk about the power of this book, the more I wanted to read it.  I was very excited when Mr. Schu gave away some Advanced Reader Copies of the book on his blog.  I’m not usually a lucky person, but apparently I was meant to get a copy of this book because I won the drawing.  Also, as luck would have it, I got sick on my birthday and got to stay home from school.  During my day of silence, I finished the whole book.

I don’t even know how to begin describing this book.  It’s so much more than a book; it’s an experience of immersing yourself in the shoes of someone so unlike yourself.  It’s an adventure, a journey.  The main character August Pullman (Auggie) is born with a facial deformity, and as he says, “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”  Up until now, Auggie has been homeschooled, but he’s taking the leap of moving into a new school and all of the challenges that come with making friends, attending a formal school, and more, but he faces all with this with a major difference that he was born with.

R.J. Palacio tells this story from multiple perspectives.  I’ve come to realize that these kinds of books are among my favorites.  I love how the same situations are viewed completely different when seen through the eyes of several people and how individual stories weave together to tell a whole story.  The story starts from Auggie’s perspective, and I couldn’t help but want to reach out and give Auggie a hug.  All of my problems in life seemed so small and insignificant after viewing the world through Auggie.  He’s brave, smart, and funny.  I found myself wanting to spend more time with him, so I was a little sad when the book switched perspectives, but it didn’t take long for me to be glad that it did.  I liked getting inside the other characters’ heads and understanding why they made the choices that they made.  I easily made connections with them when I’ve been in similar situations where someone had a facial deformity.  I was reminded of when my wife and I were seated with a man who had a facial deformity on our 7 day cruise.  Every night, we sat with him and his wife and enjoyed some great conversation, and we didn’t once talk about the deformity.  It was a challenge, but I couldn’t help but think how he probably had to explain his face to every person he came in contact with and how nice it might be to just sit and have some normal conversation.  I was glad that Auggie met some of these kinds of characters in the book.

I know great things are ahead for this book.  It’s early in the year, but this is a standout book that is a must-read.  I’ve already ordered our copy for the media center and can’t wait to share it with students.  In the spirit of Mr. Schu and others who are paying this book forward, I’m giving away my copy to a teacher in our school.  I can’t wait to hear what the class has to say about the book!

More Barrow Media Center Persuasive Writing Contest Winners

Today, we want to recognize Natalie for winning the 1st grade persuasive writing contest.  Also, because we had 82 entries in our 1st persuasive writing contest, there were many outstanding essays that didn’t win 1st place.  Today, these students were recognized on BTV and had a chance to record their essays using the iPads.  Not all students chose to record their essays, but we invite you to listen to the ones that did.  Congratulations again to all of our winners and honorable mentions!

Natalie-1st grade winner:

Honorable Mentions:

Two students wrote pieces about why picture books are not important.  Here they are:

Barrow Media Center Persuasive Writing Contest Winners

We are excited to announce that 82 students entered our first Barrow Media Center Persuasive Writing Contest.  Students wrote essays about whether or not picture books are important for today’s kids.  Almost every essay was in support of picture books and students’ creativity really stood out in the essays.  After much deliberation, the winners have been chosen, one from each grade level.  Here are six of the winning essays.  We’ll post more “honorable mention” essays in the coming days.


PreK: Sam

Kindergarten: Andrew

1st Grade: Natalie

2nd Grade: Isabella

3rd Grade: Kniyah

4th Grade: Sarah

5th Grade: Clare




Student E-book Creation

Some third graders have been exploring how they can make their own ebooks.  This group was a big exploration.  We really didn’t know what we were doing when we started, and we gave ourselves permission to just try things, problem solve, and be at peace if something just didn’t work.

We decided to try Barnes and Noble’s Tikatok first.  It’s free and can either be done with a parent account with children added or can be done with a teacher account with students added.  Students can use a gallery of photos or import their own.  Most students chose to search for creative commons photos to use in their book.  One student even did her own photography.  Some students started with a written story and made their pages and images match their story.  Others started with interesting images and tried to weave those into a story or collection of poems.

The free version of Tikatok only allows you to use photos and text.  If you want to include audio, you have to pay to upgrade your account.  Also, we learned that a parent account allows the books to be shared exactly as they are created, while a teacher account only allows the books to be shared with the word “tikatok” spread across each page.  Ultimately, this is a tool for Barnes and Noble to make money through the purchase of the ebook version or the printed version.  However, we found that it was useful enough and easy enough to use that we would try it again and only use the features that were free.

Another group will begin exploring in a couple of weeks.  This group is probably going to try out a different tool called SimpleBooklet.  There are many more features in this tool such as embedding Google docs, video, and audio.  The feel of the book is more like a slideshow than the turning of pages in Tikatok, but the features may prove to support more creativity and transmedia experiences for students.  Our hope is that these 2 exploration groups will work out some of the kinks for future groups and inspire whole grade levels to try this out.

You can preview 3 of the books that these students created here.

Connecting Students to Primary Sources

Back in December, fourth grade asked me to teach their students about primary resources in the context of their social studies standards.  Primary sources can be tough if students don’t really have a connection to what they are.  I wanted to build some connection for them before we jumped into the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, so I pulled out some artifacts from the cabinets in the BTV studio that are filled with scrapbooks, boxes of photographs, journals, newspaper clippings, class projects, and more from Barrow’s history.  I spread the objects out on the table and had the students start there.  They were immediately connected.  They buzzed with energy and conversation making “noticings” about what had changed with the physical building, how people dressed, how long into the summer we went to school, the “color” of the people in the classrooms, and more.  They could have easily spent the entire class period looking at these artifacts.

Next, we shared some of our noticings and made a guess at what primary sources might be.  Many of the students said that primary sources were “old information”.  I read an excerpt from Primary Sources by Leia Tait, and we talked about the kinds of primary sources that the students are creating today.  On p. 7 of the book, there are 2 paragraphs about Thanksgiving (one primary and one secondary source).  Students were able to verbally say what a primary source was, but they still had trouble distinguishing how to tell if something was a primary source or a secondary source.  We surfaced and discussed this confusion and tried to think of ways to help us remember.  We talked about writing reports or informational writing versus writing to document an event.  This distinction seemed to help the most.

Finally, we moved to the computer lab and students used a pathfinder to explore primary sources at the Library of Congress related to the fourth grade social studies standards.  Students really took their time with this.  Most of them stayed on the first task of examining the pictures of presidents for similarities and differences.  The teacher recognized the level of engagement and said that the students would continue their exploration of primary sources as a reading center in the classroom.

This lesson really pushed my own thinking of how we are documenting the present so that future individuals can learn about the past.  So much of our work now is digital, that I wonder how these digital pieces are preserved and published so that future generations can find them.  What an interesting thought to explore with the students.  I will teach this lesson two more times and hope to ponder that with them.

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How to teach 3 social studies units covering over half a century in 4 weeks: A 5th Grade Glogster Project

Last year, I began a journey with 5th grade that integrated multiple social studies standards into one big project.  The teachers put students in cross-classroom groups and assigned them social studies topics for a unit on the turn of the century.  Each group made a glog about their topic after using print and digital resources to gather information.  We were amazed by the leadership, collaboration, and innovation that took place in that project, but we made a lot of mistakes along the way too.  You can read more about last year here and here.

This year, we almost didn’t do this project.  The teachers were feeling even more overwhelmed by the content this year because they had to teach 3 social studies units and 2 science units in 9 weeks.  You would probably feel overwhelmed too if you knew you had to teach these units in that amount of time:

Even the district planner recommends a total of 12 weeks for the units, but requires that it be done in the 3rd quarter (9 weeks).

After multiple combinations of meetings between me, the 5th grade social studies teacher, the gifted collaboration teacher, and the instructional coach, we developed a plan for how this year’s content might look.  Each of the 3 social studies classes were assigned a unit.  Within each class, topics were assigned to individuals as well as groups of students.  These students made plans of how to divide the content among their group.  On Mondays and Fridays, the social studies teacher and gifted teacher did direct teaching of some of the content from all 3 units.  On Tuesday-Thursday, students came to the media center to research their topics in online databases, websites, and books.  Last year, students just took notes as they read, but this year we wanted students to have a better structure that was based in questions that came from the standards.  The gifted teacher combed through the standards and created 2 different graphic organizers with questions for students to consider.  The organizer also had space to document resources used.  Some students chose to use digital copies of this organizer while others chose to print it out and write their notes.

Once again, I pulled together a pathfinder divided up by topics.  This pathfinder gave each student a handful of websites about their topic.  I also showed them how to search the databases found in Georgia’s Galileo collection.  My paraprofessional took the topics and searched through our print collection.  If a book matched one group’s topic, she put a post-it with their names on the book.  If a book spanned multiple topics, she put it in a shared stack.

To begin our journey, I briefly introduced the pathfinder, graphic organizers, and how to take notes (not copying and pasting entire paragraphs of information from websites).  I also showed a glog from last year’s students to give them an idea of what they would ultimately be doing.  We chose not to introduce how Glogster works at the beginning.  We also chose to not give students logins and passwords to Glogster.  Students then began a week of research.  The social studies teacher, gifted teacher, student teacher, my paraprofessional, some college students, and me began working with students as much as possible to support them in their search.

After a week, I introduced how Glogster works by showing a very basic run-through of the kinds things it can do.  Students continued to research, but as they finished, they checked in with one of the adults.  Most of the time we offered additional guiding questions and support so that they had the most complete information possible.  Once students reached a point where they had enough information, they received their username and password to Glogster.

Most students began Glogster with deciding on their wall background.  Then, they moved to adding text from their organizer.  Eventually, students branched out to include photographs from public domain searches and linked their pictures to the sources they came from.  Some students also did audio introductions to their glog or recorded audio for various parts of their glogs.  Some students used Screencast-o-matic to do screencasts of timelines from PebbleGo or tours in Google Earth.  A few students used webcams to record themselves talking.  One group even did a webcam video of their resource list rather than just creating a text box for it.

You can view some of the finished or in progress glogs here:

Recovering from the Great Depression

Black Cowboys

Wright Brothers

George Washington Carver

Alexander Graham Bell

Thomas Edison

Spanish American War

McKinley & Roosevelt

Panama Canal


Voting Rights

US Contributions and Treaty of Versailles

Lusitania and Other Ships

Duke Ellington

Louis Armstrong

Harlem Renaissance

Babe Ruth

Charles Lindbergh

Henry Ford

The Great Depression

Jesse Owens

Stalin, Mussolini, Roosevelt, & Churchill


Presidents of WWII

Bombing of Japan

Changing Role of Women

Tuskegee Airmen

Cold War

Khrushchev & McCarthy

D-Day, VJ, & VE Days

Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, & Hirohito

Panama Canal 2

Once students finalize their glogs, they will present them to the rest of the 5th grade to share the responsibility of teaching and learning this massive amount of content.

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Digital Learning Day @David C. Barrow Elementary Media Center

Today was National Digital Learning Day.  I honestly didn’t plan anything specifically for the day, but rather looked at what we were already doing today and highlighted it.  Using technology as a natural part of learning to both consume information and create it is a big part of our media center vision and mission.  I appreciate this day to highlight the great work going on around our country, but I didn’t feel like I needed to go over the top with planning digital learning, when it’s already a part of what we do.  Here’s a glimpse of the kinds of learning that took place today in the Barrow Media Center.

  • 11 students used e-readers to download samples of multiple books and read them to make decisions about what e-books they will commit to reading
  • Two enrichment clusters used iPads, desktops, and laptops to explore different ways of using these devices.  These 2 groups (one younger students and one older students) are trying to explore as many ways these devices can be used so that they can promote their use throughout the school among students and teachers.  Two Kindergarten teachers are leading these groups and working in the media center.
  • A 1st grade class learned about the Athens quilter, Harriet Powers, and created a digital quilt using the iPads.
  • Three 5th grade classes worked on collaborative projects encompassing 3 units of social studies standards.  They are taking research they found and creating glogs in Glogster.  At this point they are linking their glogs to videos online, embedding screencasts of Google Earth tours or timeline reviews, and creating audio segments introducing their glogs.
  • A kindergarten group used the e-readers to listen to picture books and/or practice reading the books independently and doing summaries.
  • I held a professional learning session for teachers on Google docs so that they could learn how to begin collaborating on documents.  Our teachers do a lot of collaboration, so the use of Google docs is going to help them share multiple documents and streamline their time.

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How do you celebrate digital learning day every day?