Makerspace Maniacs Enrichment Cluster

first robots (10)For about 4 weeks, a group of 2nd-5th graders have been meeting with me on Fridays from 8:15-9:15AM.  This time is called enrichment clusters at our school which basically means that kids select a group based on their interest and spend a period of time learning and creating around that topic.  Our cluster is called Makerspace Maniacs.  Our first sessions have been about exploring the world of making.

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So far we have:

  • Watched Caine’s Arcade and explored the idea of making interactive creations with cardboard.

  • Watched Sylvia Super Awesome Maker Show and explored how we can take our creations and create instructional videos about them.

  • Watched Landfill Harmonic and explored how makers take other people’s trash or unwanted items and turn them into functional creations.

  • Watched how a 3D printer works and imagined what we would create on it.

  • Tinkered with Lego robotics and programming.
  • Explored making things out of duct tape.

Now, students are beginning to think about what they are interested in spending more time with.  Right now, we have a lot of interest in robotics.  Today, one student spent time exploring the directions to build a mindstorm NXT robot and began the building process.  Another group of students looked at the Lego WeDo kit and followed instructions to build an alligator.  Other students spent time, exploring how the various lego pieces fit together.  Since their interests are so drawn to robotics, Christa Deissler from UGA will be helping me coordinate a guest speaker to talk to students and demonstrate programming of robots.

first robots (9)Seeing something tangible really inspires the students.  Today a student figured out how to use the WeDo software to make the alligator open and close its mouth.  When students saw this happen, they immediately wanted their creations to do something too.  Once we get past the exploration stage, I think students are going to want to get into the workings of the programming software and figure things out.

In other news, our Donors Choose project to get a 3D printer is fully funded!  This will give these students access to even more tools for making.  Two other classes already have ideas for how the printer might be used in their own projects.  Once it’s here, I’m sure that there will be lots of exploring, learning, and sharing between classes to figure out how this tool can support the learning in classrooms.

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Picture Book Smackdown: Celebrating and Learning

Before the hangout started, over 200 people had viewed our Smore page.

Before the hangout started, over 200 people had viewed our Smore page.

Today was our Picture Book Smackdown Google Hangout On Air.  We had an amazing lineup of schools and authors to share their favorite picture books and talk about why picture books matter in our world.  This event grew from a seed of an idea on a Google Doc into a collaborative event.  Each participant and school brought their own talents, expertise, and connections to the table to make this event successful.  This was my first leap into Google Hangouts to do an event such as this.  I always tell students, teachers, and families that we have to be willing to take risks.  If we don’t put ourselves in a place of risk, then we’ll never learn.  We don’t do our best learning in places of comfort.  I certainly learned a lot today by taking that risk.  I want to thank each of these schools for preparing their students and taking time out of their day to connect and share with the world a love of reading and picture books.

  • Jenny Lussier, school librarian in Durham, Connecticut
  • Cathy Potter, school librarian in Falmouth, Maine
  • Kathy Kaldenberg, school librarian in Solon, Iowa
  • Shawna Ford, school librarian in Weatherford, Texas

I also want to thank authors Laurel Snyder and Ame Dyckman for joining us and sharing their own favorite picture books and why picture books matter.  They both have busy schedules and it meant so much to have them take the time to join us.  My adrenaline is finally coming down from the morning and I’m pausing to reflect on the experience.

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What I loved:

  • Student voices from 5 different states were united.
  • Students were passionate about the picture books they were talking about.
  • Students had an opportunity to take a stance on talking about something that mattered to them.
  • Students were able to create an archived video that can be referenced for many purposes like inspiring readers of picture books or even showing a district’s technology department the power of Google Hangouts.
  • Authors and students had the chance to speak together on a level playing field discussing a common interest.
  • Students from multiple grade levels, backgrounds, and experiences made a connection to one another.
  • Students were engaged.  Each student had a role and purpose and were so eager to share even when technical difficulties happened.  My students stayed for a whole hour and were happy to wait and watch.
  • Even though only 10 people can participate in the hangout, we knew that many others were tuning in live or watching later, which connected us all with a very large authentic audience.

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What I learned as the host:

  • Using a Smore page to advertise the event was a great choice.  We could all advertise the Smore, and then the actual hangout could be embedded right before we went live.  The page also gave analytics after a certain amount of views which allowed us to see where people were viewing the Smore and how they were sharing it.
  • In advance, communicate with all participants about what is expected during the hangout:  order of speaking, microphone rules, etc.  Make sure that all participants are added to your circles in Google Plus.
  • Prepare students in advance and practice.  As the host, there was no time to check-in with students today to see how they were.  They had to be ready to walk in the door and go live.
  • Have someone available to either facilitate students sharing or running the keyboard.  It was hard to do both.  Someone needs to click on each person in the hangout when it is their turn to speak if you are the host.
  • If you are broadcasting your hangout over speakers, then you should mute your microphone when you aren’t speaking.  If people are unmuted, there is feedback.
  • I’m considering having my control center be in a separate space so that I can click on who is next in the hangout and have students speak in a less noisy environment.  Then, I can have viewing of the hangout in another space.
  • If you have multiple modes of communication with your participants:  twitter, email, hangout chat, etc., it is difficult to manage and host.  Perhaps over time I might be able to juggle all of those roles, but I just ignored email and twitter during the hangout today.

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What stressed me out!:

  • Feeling like everything had to be perfect and forgetting my own mantra that we have to be willing to fail in order to learn.
  • Having moments of panic when the connection was slow, the microphone wouldn’t mute, the main video wouldn’t switch to the right person, or when the audio had a lot of feedback.
  • Trying to host the event on air by verbally calling on each school.  Sometimes my microphone wouldn’t mute/unmute in time.  It was great when we got in a rhythm of our order and self-facilitated our speakers.


Take a look at how our event turned out, and please share your own learning about using Google Hangouts On Air in the comments below.

A Picture Book Smackdown is Coming!

Picture Book Smackdown! - SmoreI am so excited about a Picture Book Month event that I have planned on Thursday.  From 10-11:00AM EST, 6 schools in 5 different states and 2 authors in 2 different states will come together in a Google Hangout on Air to share favorite picture books as well as why picture books are for everyone.  The hangout will broadcast live on Youtube, but it will also be recorded.

How did this come about?

prep (7)November is National Picture Book Month.  It’s a month where I ask students, teachers, and families to read as many picture books as possible and to think about the importance of picture books in our world.  It’s also a month where a lot of educators make connections with one another to celebrate and explore together.  At the beginning of the month, Laura D’Elia, school librarian in Massachusetts, organized a Google Doc for librarians across the country to make connections with one another by having access to one another’s schedules.  The Doc also became a space for brainstorming  other ways to celebrate.

I suggested that we hold a picture book Google Hangout and share favorite picture books among schools.  This immediately started some focused brainstorming on Thursday’s event.  Several schools were on board and we pledged to meet together in Hartford, CT face to face at the American Association of School Librarians Conference.  Even before we arrived there, we had started our plan of how to advertise the event, how to structure it, how to involve students, and how to bring in authors.  Our Smore page began to populate with our ideas as they came together.  Each one of us had additional connections with other schools and authors, so we each invited others to join our hangout.  Cathy Potter invited Ame Dyckman, author, to join us.  I invited Laurel Snyder, author, to join us.  We are so excited that they will both be able to attend.

prep (6)In advance, students at each of our schools are preparing in different ways for the event.  My students filled out a short script to help them remember what to say.  They basically had to remember things like the title, what the book was about, why they liked it, and why picture books are for everyone.  They also practiced sitting in front of the camera and reading their script.  Their books are waiting in a stack for our hangout.  prep (1)

We’ve read.  We’ve recruited.  We’ve prepared.  We’ve organized.  Now, we are ready to connect and have a full hour of sharing as many picture books as we can.  It’s a smackdown!  We hope that you will join us by visiting the Smore page at 10:00AM EST on Thursday November 21st.  Just click on the video feed that will appear on the page at that time and enjoy.  You can also tweet about our smackdown using #pbsmkdwn as the hashtag.  If you can’t watch live, consider visiting the page and watching the archive of our hangout.  You’ll also find a post on my blog later this week detailing how much fun we had during our connection.

prep (5)This was so much fun to organize, and it really wasn’t extremely difficult.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Visit Our Smore Page for More Information!

3D Printing: A Huge Opportunity from Donors Choose and Makerbot

MakerBot News (MakerBotNews) on TwitterThose of you who know me know that I’ve been wanting a 3D printer in our library for awhile.  It seems that just when I think we’re about to get one, something happens that puts a barrier in our way.  This isn’t just about having cutting edge technology.  This is about allowing kids to experience another level of creating.  It’s about allowing kids to explore a technology that is possibly a piece of technology that we will all eventually have in our homes.  It’s about giving kids the power to dream something up, design it, print it, and  hold it in their hands.  It’s about bringing STEAM education to life for our students.  For these reasons, I haven’t given up hope that we will have a 3D printer in our library.  Recently, we started a conversation with UGA to partner with them and use the 3D printers that they have.  We are very grateful for this opportunity, but we know that if we truly want to have a 3D printer as a part of our daily resources available to students, then we need to have one in our building all the time.

Today, Makerbot announced a partnership with Donors Choose to put a 3D printer in every classroom.  This is a bold claim, but it is a step toward thinking that 3D printers aren’t just for colleges, public libraries, or industry.  Each time I’ve mentioned putting a 3D printer in an elementary library, I’ve been met with the “why” questions.  I’ve also been met by the “I can’t see elementary students doing that…” statements.  My philosophy that I have embraced since reading Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is to “Expect the Miraculous”.  I have faith that if students have access to a cutting edge tool such as a 3D printer paired with expertise from mentors over Skype & Google Hangouts paired with expertise from our community who already use 3D printers, then miraculous things will happen for students.  I don’t have all of the answers of what this should look like in an elementary school, but someone has to be willing to step up and walk into the unknown and trust that students and multiple experts will learn together, figure things out, and shape how this technology can support what we do and hope to do in schools.

As soon as I saw the Donors Choose opportunity, I submitted a project.  By the end of the day, our project was approved and we already had a matching grant.  This match brought our project down to approximately $1500.  If what Makerbot says is true, as more donors donate to the project, other business and private donor contributions will fulfill this project.  Once again, I’m taking a leap of faith that this project will be filled for our school and we can begin exploring and leading the way for 3D printing in schools.   

Two donors have already contributed to our project along with our matching donation.  I invite you all to take a look at our project, consider donating, or at the very least, consider sharing our project with your circles.  Giving kids the opportunity to create, share, and contribute to the current conversation on 3D printing in education is a great gift to give, especially this time of year.

Makerspace Maniacs



Observing the Day & Night Sky with Kindergarten

IMG_1377Kindergarten is working on observing the day and night sky in science, and they want to use technology to document their observations.  They are working on the following standards:

ELACCKW6 digital tools help writers write and share their stories.

ELACCKW7 writers work in groups.

SKE1 Students describe time pattterns (such as day to night and night to day) and objects in the day and night sky.

Classes came for 2 separate lessons.  During our 1st session, we used Capstone’s Pebble Go to read about day and night.

PebbleGo - Capstone Digital

Then, we read the book Sun Up, Sun Down: The Story of Day and Night by Jacqui Bailey.  During our reading of both Pebble Go and the book, students discussed the scientific reasons we have day and night.  We setup the idea of starting to “notice” things about the sky and how it changes during the day and night.

IMG_1376For our 2nd session, I opened up the blinds on our massive library windows and setup observation areas for students.  We started our time together on the floor and shared some observations we had already made at recess or at home.  We practiced saying aloud what we would write on our clipboards at the windows.  Next, the teacher paired the students together, gave them a clipboard with paper and pencil, and I placed groups in front our our windows.  The teacher, parapro, and I walked around and talked with kids about what they saw.  We encouraged them to write and sketch.  We also helped them make connections to the information that we had learned from Pebble Go and our book.  For example, the sun was blinding us in the windows on he left side of the media center but on the right side of the media center it was shady.  We remembered that the sun is at different positions in the sky throughout the day due to the Earth rotating.

Day & Night Sky Observations

At the end, we split the class in half at our 2 projection areas.  Student groups shared what they observed and we used Padlet to capture the observations.  I tweeted the link to our padlet and later in the day Margaret Powers, Mrs. Keating, and Mrs. Bolster and their students added to the wall from Pennsylvania.  It was interesting to hear about the cloud-filled sky there compared to our cloudless sky in Georgia.

Now, the Kindergarten teachers will share this link with families and encourage them to add notes to the Padlet from home.  This will allow students to make some observations of the night sky.  Please feel free to leave some comments on the Padlet about what the sky looks like where you are!

Using KidBlog with 2nd Grade

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Last year our 2nd grade teachers collaborated with me on a blogging project using KidBlog.  Our blog was  a way to connect our students with students in Van Meter, Iowa while at the same time showcasing different kinds of writing.  This year, the teachers wanted to start blogging much earlier in the year.

kidblog (3)Each teacher setup her students on KidBlog by uploading a simple excel spreadsheet with names and passwords.  In class, students wrote out their first “post”.  This post was very simple.  Students have been studying important people from Georgia’s history so each student wrote one sentence about one of these Georgians on an index card.  They brought these cards with them to the library to learn about blogging and do their first post.

During our mini lesson, I asked students how many had heard of a blog, and all hands went up.  Then, I ask them who could define what a blog is, and almost all hands went down.  Our first question of exploration was “What is a blog?”  We watched a common craft video on blogging.  I paused along the way and asked students what news they might report on as a 2nd graders.  They mentioned things like:

  • what we do in our classroom
  • math problems that people could solve
  • what we did on vacation
  • books that we are reading
  • and more

Next, I showed them the media center blog.  We looked at the map of readers, tags, how posts are from most recent to oldest, and talked about my audience.

Finally, I showed them Kidblog and how they would login to do their posts.  I stressed the idea that once you click “publish”, your work is instantly connected with an audience.  Students brainstormed what they might need to do before clicking publish.  They said things like:

  • triple check your work
  • check spelling
  • revise and edit
  • read for understanding
  • ask an adult to check your work
  • make sure you said things the way you wanted to say them
  • check that it’s appropriate

Students dispersed to iPads and laptops and began logging in.  Adults circulated and helped students as needed, but students also helped one another to find buttons, login, and any other technical questions they had.  In about an hour, most students were able to learn about blogs & their purpose, make their first post, and go back to class very eager to write more.  The report back from the teachers was that these students are already asking when they will be able to post again.

You can see the beginnings of their work at the following links:

Exploring Georgia Habitats with 3rd Grade

IMG_1351Each of our 3rd grade classes have booked time in the media center to research the habitats of Georgia.  Here’s what they need to know:

S3L1. Students will investigate the habitats of different organisms and the dependence of
organisms on their habitat.
a. Differentiate between habitats of Georgia (mountains, marsh/swamp, coast,
Piedmont, Atlantic Ocean) and the organisms that live there.
b. Identify features of green plants that allow them to live and thrive in different regions
of Georgia.
c. Identify features of animals that allow them to live and thrive in different regions of
d. Explain what will happen to an organism if the habitat is changed.

S3L2. Students will recognize the effects of pollution and humans on the environment.
a. Explain the effects of pollution (such as littering) to the habitats of plants and
b. Identify ways to protect the environment.
• Conservation of resources
• Recycling of materials

During their library time, I set the stage by doing a brief mini-lesson.  We looked at the standard and talked about the word “feature”.  We tied this to the word “adaptation” and looked up the definition online.

a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.

Then we looked at a National Geographic video on owls.  We didn’t watch the entire video, but we paused each time a new feature of the owl was mentioned:  its satellite head, its huge eyes, its large wings, etc.  We tied this back to the word “feature” an the word “adaptation” so that students would know the kinds of things they were looking for in their research.

Next, I posed the question:  Why does all of this matter to us?  why do we need to learn about animals, plants, and their habitats?  Before they answered, we watched a news clip that aired this morning.  It was a perfect fit to our topic because it showed a black bear roaming around near an elementary school’s dumpster in Hall County.  IMG_1346

After watching this clip, I posed the question again.  Students said things like:

  • If we know about plants and animals, then we’ll know how to take care of them.
  • If we know about habitats, then we’ll know how to not pollute them.
  • We’ll know how to keep animals alive and where they belong.
  • and more.

I was really glad that I watched the news this morning at the gym instead of rushing in to school because that clip really set the stage for our research.

For about 30 minutes, students used a graphic organizer to gather information about the habitats, plants, and animals of Georgia in a variety of ways.  They could freely float between 3 different areas in the library.

  • Books:  I used the State Standards Publishing series for regions, rivers, and habitats of Georgia.
  • Posters:  These posters featured different kinds of animals along with a map of where they were found in Georgia.  Students had to identify an animal, look at what region of Georgia it was found in, and then think about what habitat that would fall under on their graphic organizer.
  • Websites:  Students had access to a Sqworl site that had songs, informational sites, and games about the habitats and regions of Georgia. IMG_1352

As usual, it was interesting to see where students chose to go.  Some went directly to games.  Others went to posters.  Other chose books.  It really said a lot about what kinds of media our students need access to in order to match their needs as learners.  Some students stayed at the same station or site for the entire 30 minutes while others moved to several stations.  During this time, the teacher, student teacher, special education teacher, and I were able to walk around and facilitate learning.  We asked questions to nudge students thinking or spent time showing students how they might pay close attention to a game and gather facts while still maintaining momentum in their game.  As usual, it was very freeing and individualized.  This has come to be one of my favorite models for gathering information.  My regret is that we don’t have more day scheduled to find information.  Now, the students will use their 1 to 1 netbooks to continue to explore the Sqworl site on their own.

4th Grade Blogging

IMG_1341All of our 4th grade classes are starting blogs.  After meeting with the teachers and discussing their goals for blogging, we chose to use Kid Blog as our tool of choice.  We chose this tool because it gives teachers the options to set several privacy settings, monitor posts & comments, and also simultaneously creates a class blog as well as individual blogs for all students.  I showed the teachers how to quickly import their students into KidBlog and setup accounts.  They each setup their own class.

Our 4th grade classrooms are all trying out a special time in their day called Heart Time.  During this time, each student has a specified amount of time to work on something that truly matters to them.  Some construct masks.  Others explore drum making.  Some spend time writing.  The possibilities for this time are endless.  There are many pieces to this time.  One piece is for students to begin to learn about what matters to one another and spend time sharing and connecting with one another.  The teachers’ hope is that these classroom discussions can be documented through blogging so that they document the process but also impact a larger audience than just the classroom.  Other classrooms could learn from what these students are exploring.  Also, members of the community might make a connection with a student and be able to share their own expertise with a student if they know what that student is exploring.


We held a kickoff to the blogging project.  During the kickoff, all of the 4th grade classes rotated through 3 centers.  With me, students learned a bit of history about blogging.  We learned that in 1999 there was less than 100 blogs and today there’s well over 100 million blogs.  We looked at this blog, and I explained how blogging has a purpose.  Students were wowed when they saw the map of where people are reading the media center blog.

IMG_1343With Vicki Michaelis, a parent, students learned about how blogging is used in careers.  Vicki does sports blogging through her career at UGA, so she was able to show students how she uses blogs to reach her audience.IMG_1345

With Heather Carlson, 4th grade gifted teacher, students explored blogging ethics and the importance of proofreading and deciding what to post or not post online.

Next, students will begin exploring their blogs in class and using this new tool to document their learning throughout the year.  I can’t wait to read what they write!

2013 Picture Book Month Shelf Challenge

November is Picture Book Month.  It’s a month to study the fine art of picture books and their importance in our lives no matter what our age.  We’e been celebrating Picture Book Month since its creation 3 years ago by author Dianne de Las Casas.  Each year, she rounds up a month-long celebration with posts by numerous authors each describing the importance of picture books in our lives.

Each year our own celebration grows.  This year, we are holding a shelf challenge.  Last year, Matthew Winner (aka The Busy Librarian) did a shelf challenge for School Library Month, so we are borrowing his model and modifying it for Picture Book Month.    Here are our “rules”:

Who can participate:

  • Any students, teachers, or families at Barrow!


Where to find picture books:

  • Any book in the Everybody section

  • Any book in 398.2 or 811

  • Any book in the holiday section

  • Any book where the story is told through pictures or pictures & text.


What to do:

  • Set a goal for yourself.  Examples:  Read every book in the Everybody section A’s.  Choose a shelf and read every book on that shelf.  Set a specific number of picture books to read.  The possibilities are endless!

  • Write your goal on the back of this sheet and keep track of your progress.  Add sheets if you need to.

  • Turn your sheet in to Mr. Plemmons on December 2nd.


If you finish your challenge, you will get:

  • A certificate

  • A bookmark

  • A chance to win a hardcover picture book such as Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses, Bugs in My Hair, That is Not a Good Idea, Green, and A Ball for Daisy.  (Many thanks to Edie Crook for donating 2 of these books for our contest!)


In addition to our shelf challenge, we are recording students and teachers for our morning broadcast talking about their challenge goal and a favorite picture book they have read for the challenge.

We are also planning some connections with other libraries to share favorite picture books as well.  I love to see how this celebration grows each year.  I hope that this year we set our own record for the number of picture books checked out in November.