Barrow Media Center Blog: 2013 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 35,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Let’s Connect For LitWorld’s World Read Aloud Day During The Week Of March 5th

On March 5th, we will celebrate World Read Aloud Day with LitWorld again.

We will actually celebrate all week long….March 3rd through the 7th.

One of my favorite connected educator friends, Shannon Miller, and I have been planning our collaboration and teaching plans for 2014 so of course World Read Aloud Day was a very important part of this. We decided to write this post and start planning, connecting, and sharing the excitement for this day.

This is always such a special day for celebrating the power of literacy….and one of the best for our libraries, schools, and students too.
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You can read about all of our connections at Barrow at the post from last year, World Read Aloud Day 2013.  Also check out Shannon’s post at Van Meter, Our World Read Aloud Day Celebration Connected Us 21 Times During The Week That Made A Difference.

This year we are excited for even more of these special connections.

If you are interested in connecting with others on this day, please add your name, schedule, and ideas to the information in the Google Doc that we started. This will begin to fill up with others around the world as they want to connect their students and schools too.
We plan to celebrate throughout that entire week….March 3-7th.
On March 3, it is also NEA’s Read Across America Day so we will tie this together with World Read Aloud Day too.

Also, check out all the wonderful activity ideas and resources that LitWorld has included on their website here.

The classroom kit is great! We love how it contains suggestions for read-aloud, suggestions for group activities, and a fundraising guide to support LitWorld and their programs.

Let us know if you have any questions on how this works. One of the fun parts is collaborating and throwing around ideas with each other.

Have fun and get connected for World Read Aloud Day this year too.

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Many thanks to Shannon Miller for creating this post for us to share.

Expecting the Miraculous Now and in the New Year

photo (4)Over the summer of 2013, I was fortunate enough to receive an advance reader copy of Flora & Ulysses:  The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo.  She is by far one of favorite authors because her words always seem to speak to me in some way beyond just the story.  On p. 130, I came across a quote that I have honestly carried with me in my heart and mind since reading it.  In fact, it has become a motto that I embrace in our school library because it exemplifies the brand that our library represents.

“All things are possible,” said Dr. Meescham.  “When I was a girl in Blundermeecen, the miraculous happened every day.  Or every third day.  Actually, sometimes it did not happen at all, even on the third day.  But still, we expected it.  You see what I’m saying?  Even when it didn’t happen, we were expecting it.  We knew the miraculous would come.” ~Kate DiCamillo

Expect the miraculous.  It’s the phrase that I cheezily say to myself as I enter school each day.  It’s what I remind myself of when I sit down to plan with teachers.  It’s what I whisper to myself in the midst of a technology fail.  It’s what came out of my mouth in a recent interview with School Library Journal:

For wary school librarians, Plemmons adds, “My philosophy is, if we don’t expect miraculous things to happen in our libraries, then we’re just limiting ourselves. Why totally shut a door when we don’t know where it leads to?”

I don’t want to put limits on what kids are allowed to do just because I might not be an expert in a particular tool or concept.  I’m willing to try anything new with any age of students and expect that something great will happen even if it’s not what I imagined happening in my head.  In Invent to Learn, Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager say,

“It is unacceptable and unnecessary to deny children the opportunity to work on something they are passionate about because the teacher is not an expert in that particular field.”

Looking back through my posts of 2013, I see so many incredible things that happened in our library because we (myself, students, teachers, families, connected educators, and special guests) expected the miraculous.  Here are just a few:

  • 5th graders working together to design, plan, persuade, collect, paint, and dedicate during the Little Free Library project.  We now have 2 Little Free Libraries thanks to their hard work.  We went into the project with so many unknowns, but we always expected that the libraries would exist in our community.  Check out the posts!
  • 2nd graders developing their writing skills through blogging and connecting with students in Van Meter, Iowa.  This project included a miraculous connection with author/illustrator Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw.  Check out the posts!  Post 1  Post 2   Post 3

  • 3rd graders engaging in action research to solve a real-world problem at our school.  Their investigations included webcam observations, indoor and outdoor observation, skyping with Cornell University and a former Barrow Buddy via Skype, and email communication with other experts.  Their work resulted in many attempts at saving birds from crashing into our school windows.  Post 1  Post 2
  • 1st graders using Twitter to write persuasive messages about our environment.  Check out the post!
  • Multiple connections for special events like World Read Aloud Day, World Book Night, Dia de los Ninos, Read for the Record, and Talk Like a Pirate Day.
  • Students purchasing books for our library with their very own student book budgets.  Check out the post!

  • Students from throughout the school crowd-sourcing a poem using Google Forms for Poem In Your Pocket Day.  Check out the post!
  • Our annual Poem In Your Pocket Days live on Adobe Connect with viewers in multiple states and countries.  Post 1   Post 2
  • Kindergarten students becoming experts inTux Paint and making an informational video to teach others to use the program.  They even connected with students in Van Meter, Iowa to share their expertise.  Post 1  Post 2

  • Moving into a brand new library and working together to learn how to use it.  Check out the post!
  • The entire 4th grade working together in the library over several days to research explorers and Native Americans as well as challenge their thinking about heroes and villains.  Check out the post!
  • 2nd graders using Thinglink to publish monster stories.  Check out the post!
  • A Picture Book Month Smackdown with 2 authors and schools in 5 different states.  Check out the post!

  • After our district decided not to buy a 3D printer, we continued expecting the miraculous.  Miraculously, Donors Choose and Makerbot created a partnership and overnight a 3D printer was funded for our library!  Check out the post!
  • Classes in every grade level committed to exploring computer programming during the Hour of Code.  I’m expecting more miraculous things to come out of this one hour experience.  Post 1  Post 2
  • Our very first student-made design was printed on our 3D printer.  Grant and I expected the miraculous (even though we were prepared for failure).  Check out the post!

1st print (18)

When we give kids the space to explore, the tools to create, the connections to expertise and collaboration, and a global audience to share with, miraculous things will happen.  I know that not everyone believes this.  Recently, an article was published in the Athens Banner Herald highlighting out Hour of Code activities.  In the article, I was quoted saying:

“I encourage them to think about how coders aren’t afraid to make mistakes,” Plemmons said. And when they do make a mistake, they work with their peers to fix it.

Even though I try to avoid reading online comments (and I wish I had used the word failure instead of mistake), I was disturbed by one commenter’s post.  She said:

Such a lax attitude is not acceptable in my book. I am afraid to make mistakes in my work so I make sure all possibilities are considered and all details are addressed and included. I also make great effort to anticipate any questions my clients may have and am ready with an answer before I sit down at a meeting. I don’t need to ask others to help me fix any problems; I’ve already fixed them.

It’s good to tell kids to relax and not worry about making a mistake as they learn, but that real work for hire must be near perfect without wasting a lot of people’s time or your own.

The most disturbing part of this comment to me was the notion that giving kids space to fail, step back, re-evaluate, and try again is having a lax attitude.  Many major companies encourage their employees to fail early and fail often. This allows their employees the freedom to be innovative and take risks knowing that those risks are what unveil the latest great ideas. By failing early, learning from failure, and fine tuning their products, companies are able to release the best quality product that they can. In the digital world, companies continue to listen to the consumer and push out updates to improve any mistakes or ideas that they missed. This is the same kind of situation with students. They aren’t publishing final products online that are full of mistakes. Rather, they are attempting to make the computer do what they want it to do, trying some code, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and fine tuning their work. No one sits down and makes a perfect product without first failing.  Expecting the miraculous certainly doesn’t mean that you are expecting things to be perfect on the first try.

I was reminded of the importance of failure when I was recently reading Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.  Reynolds says:

“The fear of making a mistake, risking an error, or being told you are wrong is constantly with us. And that’s a shame. Making mistakes is not the same thing as being creative, but if you are not willing to make mistakes, then it is impossible to be truly creative. If your state of mind is coming from a place of fear and risk avoidance, then you will always settle for the safe solutions–the solutions already applied many times before.”

“Children are naturally creative, playful, and experimental. If you ask me, we were the most human when we were young kids. We worked on our art, sometimes for hours without a break, because it was in us, although we didn’t intellectualize it. As we got older, fears crept in along with doubts, self censoring, and overthinking.”

In 2014, I am going to continue expecting the miraculous with my students, my collaborators, my families, and my peers.  We will embrace our failures, learn from them, and continue to create innovative work together.

I am going to start 2014 by asking my students, “What miraculous things do you expect in 2014?”  They will record their responses on a Flipgrid.  I invite you to add your own expectations to the same Flipgrid.  Go ahead.  Give it a try.  Expect the miraculous.

Day 2 (3)

Polar Express Day 2013

Polar Express (14)A favorite day for Barrow students is our annual Polar Express Day.  This year was our first year back in our new building, so of course, this day brought new surprises for students.  All of the favorite traditions were there, too:

  • All students wore pajamas.  Our counselor, family engagement specialist, and PTA made sure that all students had pajamas.
  • Every class came to the library to listen to the Polar Express read by William Hurt
  • Students were served hot chocolate with marshmallows by several fantastic volunteers.
  • Each student received a bell placed around their neck with the word “Always Believe” whispered in their ear.
  • Each student received a candy cane as they left the library.

Some new surprises this year:

  • Kevin O’Neil, Barrow Dad, dressed up as a waiter to serve the 1st 2 groups hot chocolate
  • Our school was decorated in several collaborative spaces for multiple holidays, not just Christmas
  • 3 sets of train tracks brought kids to the library
  • Our display wall outside the library was transformed into a train.  The tv screens all displayed images from Polar Express
  • Holiday music was played throughout the halls
  • The projectors in the collaborative space played a crackling fire
  • The projector in the library played falling snow
  • This year our hot chocolate pouring and bell prep was in a separate room so it wasn’t as distracting to the kids
  • The train schedule of classes was posted outside the library

Polar Express (23)This is truly a magical day.  It takes a huge team effort to pull this off.  There are so many hands in this day that it’s hard to list them all.  Many thanks to:

  • Our lunchroom staff for fixing chocolate for 500 on top of fixing breakfast and lunch
  • Our principal for organizing volunteers through Signup Genius, creating a schedule, and making sure supplies were bought
  • Volunteers who went out to search the stores for bells, string, hot chocolate, cups, napkins, and candy canes.  It was quite a big search!
  • Our PTA for helping string 500+ bells
  • Sarah Britton Vaughn, Mimi Elliott-Gower, Allision Griffith, and several others who stayed late Tuesday night to put up some extra magic in the hallways
  • Multiple volunteers who poured hot chocolate, put bells around necks, and cleaned up spills
  • Todd Hollett for working long hours to figure out our hallway technology

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Our 1st Student-designed Print on Makerbot Replicator 2

1st print (22)Today was a Barrow milestone.  Grant, a 3rd grader, became the 1st student to print his own design on our new Makerbot Replicator 2.  Grant’s class has been studying rocks and minerals.  As a part of the study, they skyped with Aurum Studios, a jewelry store in downtown Athens.  During the Skype, Aurum toured students through the design process of a piece of jewelry.  One piece of designing is to use 3D software to create a model.

Students used a free tool called Sketchup and began to design their own gems with all of the cuts that they would design into a piece of jewelry.  Ashley Maher, Spectrum teacher, worked with these students and gave them space to explore the many functions of Sketchup.  Many of them figured out several functions of the tools within Sketchup by just exploring on their own.  The students started this project before we even knew we were getting a 3D printer, but when we did, they had an ultimate goal of holding their gems in their hands.

Ms. Maher took Grant’s Sketchup gem as an experiment to see if we could print it.  We used this post for guidance.  Basically, a plugin had to be downloaded into Sketchup in order to save the Sketchup files as an STL file.  Next, the STL file was imported into Makerware.  The gem was rotated so that the flattest side was on the build plate.  We set the file to a 15% infill with no raft.  Finally, the file was loaded onto the SD card ready for Grant to print.

Today, I checked in with Grant to see what color he wanted his gem to be.  I had his natural filament loaded and ready when he came to the library for ELT.  He was eager to see what happened.  I reminded him before we started that this was all an experiment.  If it didn’t work, we would look at our mistakes and try again.  We pulled up his file on the Makerbot and he pressed the red M to begin.  The rest of his classmates were in the library working and they frequently came over to visit.  We watched as the 3D printer built layer upon layer perfectly.  It took about 35 minutes for his gem to print.  Along the way, we made some video and Grant talked about his design as he watched it appear.  As the gem neared completion, Grant was bouncing around shouting out the percentage because he knew we were so close to finishing the print without a mistake.  When the build plate lowered and his gem that he designed was sitting their, he was ecstatic.  His classmates rushed over and everyone wanted to hold it.  He passed it around and then took it to show a few adults in the building.

Immediately, all of his classmates began asking when they would get to print.  We probably won’t print any more until January, but now we know that the process works.  After winter break, students will continue designing and printing.  I have a feeling that now that students have seen the final product, they are going to get even more creative with the cuts in their gems.  I’m also excited that we have so many young experts in our building that will be with us for 2 more years.  These students will be leaders in teaching others how to use Sketchup and other modeling tools.  This is only the beginning.  It’s exciting to think about what is to come.  I am so grateful to the donors, Donors Choose, and Makerbot for making 3D printing a reality in our school

Hour of Code Days 3-5

Day 5 (3)This week has just been incredible.  It’s hard to believe that just a couple of weeks ago the planning for this week began.

Even with lots of benchmark tests and wrapping up the end of the quarter, our Barrow teachers found time to bring students to the library to participate in Hour of Code.

No matter which class came, I saw similar results:  engaged students, problem solving, collaboration, suspension of time, perseverance.  Exposing students to coding has opened up a new world for them.  I loved having a conversation with students during every session about the importance of coding knowledge in their future.  Who knows what jobs will be out there when these students join the workforce, but coding is very likely going to be a part of it.

During the week, our internet has  been extremely slow, which has given us lots of problems.  It hasn’t stopped us though.  We did have to abandon some of the computer programs like Tynker because they just wouldn’t load on our machines.

Kindergarten and 1st grade continued to explore Kodable.  Second grade started exploring Light-bot on the iPad instead of Tynker.  An interesting thing started to happen with these students because they got up out of their seats and acted out the moves that their robot needed to make in order to visualize the code they needed to put in.  I loved watching the strategies that students developed to figure out the code they needed.

Students have recorded some of their thinking using a Fligrid this week, which was yet another new tool to many students.  They loved making these short videos about their learning.

Day 2 (11)A group of third graders along with the whole 4th and 5th grade explored Scratch to make an interactive holiday card.  The 4th and 5th grade groups were huge because the entire grade level came together.  I kept our whole group time very short.  I stressed the importance of not giving up, messing around to see how things work, using tutorials, and collaborating.  It was amazing to watch a group of 75+ students disperse, find their own work spaces, and get to work.  When they figured things out, they shared.  For the 4th grade group, we did a Google Hangout on Air with Sherry Gick (@LibraryFanatic) and her students who were using Blockly.  During the hangout, we each setup a computer and headset and students were able to talk to one another about what they were doing.  I picked up our laptop and walked around our library to show her students what my students were doing.  Sherry got on the microphone several times and helped some of my students with their questions too.  It was a great experiment that I definitely want to try again because it opened up our walls to student-to-student collaboration across states.  I wanted to try the idea of coders on call, and this was a step toward that for the future.  You can see how the conversations turned out in this video:

Next week, we hope to connect students again with Sherry Gick’s students in Indiana and Shannon Miller’s students in Iowa to share some of their learning and creations.  This week has sparked interest in coding, and I’m sure that coding will make its way into many of the collaborative projects during the year.  Thank you Code.org and Computer Science Education Week for putting together such a great program, inspiring videos, and helpful tutorials.  The word is out that coding is a critical skill needed by our students.

Here’s a glimpse of what happened at Barrow this week:

Hour of Code Day 1 and 2

The entire 5th grade came together to code using Scratch.

The entire 5th grade came together to code using Scratch.

I am so energized by the excitement I saw from Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 5th grade students yesterday and today during our Hour of Code.  Here’s what each session looked like:

1.  I asked them how many of them liked to play video games, iPad apps, computer programs, or knew someone who used Facebook.  Pretty much every hand shot up.  Then, I asked them how many of them knew how those programs were made and their hands shot down.  However, when  I asked how many of them would like to explore how computers and games are programmed, pretty much every hand went up again.

2.  We watched 1 or 2 videos like these:

3.  I briefly introduced the tool that students would use and gave them the short link.

4.  I gave some ground rules:

  • Coders don’t give up.  They try, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.
  • Coders collaborate.  Ask 3 other students for ideas or help before asking me.
  • Have fun!

Kindergarten and 1st grade students worked with Kodable to program a rolling fuzz ball to move through a maze collecting coins.  Our 2nd graders used Tynker to program a puppy dog to perform various commands.  Our 5th graders used Scratch to design an interactive holiday card.

At tables, I watched students leap into coding.  They hit speed bumps right away.  Many began asking one another, but there was still a tendency to ask me.  I helped at times but facilitated students talking to one another most of the time.  Since I had seen all of the tables, I knew which students had figured out some of the coding tricks.  I used this knowledge to nudge students toward one another.  Many of them really stepped up to help their peers and students who weren’t always looked to as an expert suddenly found themselves being the go-to person.  It was empowering!

holiday on ScratchAnother amazing thing was having the entire 5th grade working together in the library.  They were eager to jump in and use Scratch, which most of them had never seen or heard of.  For the most part, they quickly settled in around the library in groups or by themselves and got to work.  As they figured out things, they shared.  Some of them left having a complete card made.  Others left with a start.  All of them left with a better understanding of how to use Scratch and an excitement for coding.  There is great potential in this energy that has been generated.

Day 1 (21)Our days were not without problems.  Our school internet seemed particularly slow.  The Hour of Code sites were also swamped with visitors, so these two combinations made some of the tools impossible to load.  We had to completely change our 2nd grade Tynker lesson on day 1 because it wouldn’t load.  Instead, students used blockly and Kodable.  Kodable was our reliable app of the day.  When students all tried to login to Scratch, they kept getting bumped out.  Also, they had trouble signing in, so several left without a chance to save their work.  All of these glitches didn’t dampen the excitement for coding.

Throughout the days, students added some reflections about what they learned to a Flipgrid.  This grid was also shared on Twitter so that students in other schools could add as well.  We have several more lessons planned across Wednesday-Friday and next week students will participate in a coding smackdown in Google Hangouts.  They will have a chance to share their learning and creations with others around the country.