Helping Students Own the Space Through Shelf Talkers

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A few weeks ago Ms. Tesler, a fourth grade teacher, dropped by the library and started talking about a wish for her students to have ways to share the books that they are reading.  I love impromptu brainstorming sessions because I never know where they will lead.  So often, they lead to miraculous things.

Before she left, we had decided to assign her class an area of the library to be their recommendation space.  As a part of their leadership in the school, they would find ways to share with others about the books that they were reading.  We didn’t want to decide too much for them, so we just got some initial ideas to begin sharing with the class.

We held a book tasting where students started selecting books for independent reading and we planted the seed that students would have an area in the library to share their book recommendations.  During that session, the students and I talked about ideas such as a digital display using Flipgrid to share book talks.  We talked about space to create art projects to spark interest in a book.  We also briefly talked about shelf talkers.  At the time, we just talked about putting “signs” on the shelf to tell about the book, but I knew that students were really talking about shelf talkers.

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I immediately thought of Avid Bookshop and the wonderful shelf talkers that their book sellers put on the shelves of the shop to connect readers with books, so I emailed Janet Geddis at Avid to see about the possibility of Skyping into the shop to see the shelf talkers, hear a few, and get some tips on writing them.

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Will Walton, bookseller and author extraordinaire, agreed to Skype with us.  Students came to the library and we connected with Will.  He walked us around the shop to actually see the shelf talkers on the shelves.  The first one he showed us was for Anne of Green Gables.  He pointed out that the text was written in green to go along with the book. We saw that the handwriting was inviting and legible and the shelf talker gave a lot of description about the book.

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Will pointed out to us that it’s important to include the title and author on the shelf talker because sometimes the books get moved down the shelf or even the shelf talker gets moved.  Having the title an author helps customers still learn about the book even if it gets moved.  We connected this to the idea that books in our library will most likely get checked out, but the shelf talker will remain to inform readers about a book they might consider in the future.

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I also loved that Will pointed out the language that was used in the shelf talker.  He specifically said that they don’t say that a book would be good for boys or girls.  Instead, they connect the book to the kinds of things readers might enjoy reading about.  For example, this book would be a good choice for middle grade readers who like magic and horses.

Will was sure to show us many shelf talker and how each was in the handwriting of the person who created it.  They were fun, inviting, and even had personal touches like sketches.

I loved that Avid customers were just as interested in what was going on during our Skype with Will.

Students also got to meet Janet, bookshop owner, as well as hear the names of several other booksellers at the store.

Before students disconnected, they shared some things they were taking away from Will’s Skype.  After we disconnected, students continued to talk and even started talking about the book they wanted to write a shelf talker for.

We are already planning a time for them to return and create the shelf talkers and begin constructing their space in the library to be leaders in our school for recommending books for others.

I hope many of these students will visit Avid and see the shelf talkers in person and continue to ask Will and Janet questions about the shop. Some of them were asking how close it was to the school, so I know there is curiosity brewing. I’m so thankful to have a bookshop in our community that reaches out and supports our schools.

Cranking Up the Makerspace with Student Voice and Failure

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Since the first day of school, students have been asking me when our makerspace will start up.  Last year, we developed a great collaboration with Gretchen Thomas and her students at UGA to hold an open makerspace that students could visit on a weekly basis.  UGA is now in full swing, so we are finally ready to start our collaboration again.

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This year, Gretchen has an eager class of students who will be coming in groups of about 4 every Tuesday and Thursday.  Rather than have every piece of the makerspace available right away, we’ve decided to focus on different aspects so that students develop some knowledge about the parts and gradually move to making choices about what they are really passionate about.  Students signup on an open signup sheet hanging outside the library.  There are 10-12 slots in three 30-minute sessions.  Each day has two choices.

 

Eventually the UGA students will plan activities to bring, but for now, they are introducing things we already have in the space.  For our first session, I was excited to have Carlos and Carlena offer their craft.  Their story has grown so much since my first post about a craft they discovered in a magazine.  Just this week, Carlos and Carlena shared their craft during our Dot Day celebrations by telling Sherry Gick and her 2nd graders how they are making their mark by teaching others how to make this craft that they discovered.  I loved seeing them grow from an uncertainty of their interests to finding something they are excited to read about, make, and share with others.

The UGA students in our makerspace this week brought supplies to do this beading craft with students as one option.  Carlos brought even more beads to use and shared his expertise with students in the makerspace as well as people just visiting the library with their mentors.

This aspect of our makerspace was very successful and calming.

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The other choice was to use the iPads with our Sphero robots.  Students were so excited to try out Sphero this year, but we ran into lots of problems.  First, the Spheros didn’t charge like they were supposed to.  Then, they were all connecting to random iPads instead of the one they were supposed to be connecting to.  Luckily, we had Sterling Bailey with us who had helped in our space last year.  He stay cool and collected through the whole epic failure and continuously thought of things he could try.  He helped the students to push through the frustration and keep trying different things to get their Spheros to connect and work.  While it wasn’t successful on the programming side of things, I think students learned a valuable lesson in maintaining patience in frustration and persevering.

We are ready to try again every Tuesday and Thursday through December!

Making Our Mark for International Dot Day 2015

What a week!  We connected the dots with so many places around our country, shared great stories, learned about other perspectives, and viewed student-created masterpieces.  I love the conversations that Dot Day brings out in our students.

It was an amazing week, and this time I’ll just let the pictures and tweets speak for themselves.

 

 

 

Barrow Night at the Athens Clarke Public Library

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September is National Library Card Signup Month.  I’ve always dreamed that every student in our school would have a library card, but each year it seems to slip off my plate.  This year, I brought the idea up at our monthly media specialist meeting and we started brainstorming ideas with Evan Bush, the children’s librarian at the main branch of the Athens Clarke County Library.  At the same time, Deirdre Sugiuchi, librarian at Oglethorpe Elementary, shared how she invited students to meet her one night at the library to sign up for library cards.  This evolved into all of the 14 elementary schools signing up for a night to encourage families to visit the library.

Two weeks before the event, I sent home a flyer and wrote about it in my monthly newsletter.  I also created a Facebook event page on our David C. Barrow Elementary Facebook page.  Our principal also added it to her own newsletters that go out to families electronically and in print.  Each morning on our broadcast announcements, I shared 1-2 things that a public library card can get you.  I included things like holds from any PINES library in Georgia, ebooks, audiobooks, Bookflix, Mango foreign languages, ukuleles, and up to 50 books at a time.  I reminded students what families would need to bring in order to sign up for a card.  I also told students there would be a tour, a raffle, and a ticket to get a popsicle at school the following day.

From 5:30-7:00PM, I stayed in the children’s department of the Athens public library, and the Barrow students flooded in.  We had 43 students visit the library and multiple family members came along too.  Our principal and assistant principal came as well as several teachers.

Students received bookmarks and buttons, entered a raffle, received their ticket for an ice pop, and had a great tour of the children’s department and all it had to offer.  Families connected with one another, and I showed several people how to search the online catalog and how to pair audio books with printed text.

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I would of course love to see more families attend, but this was a great first event.  We plan to hold a second event at a smaller branch of our library system that is right next to where some of our families live.

Happy Library Card Month!

 

Celebrating International Dot Day with Google Drawing and Cells

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We love Dot Day at our school.  We connect with classrooms around the country across the whole week.  Our students love reading stories and creating dots in creative ways.

This year, our 5th graders are studying cells in science at about the same time as Dot Day, so we decided to connect the two.  Each class came to the library and we spent some time talking about “making our mark” and what that really means.  We gave examples of students who are already making their mark this school year.  I tried to emphasize that a big part of this is trying new things and just seeing where it goes.  We never know when we try something new if it is going to lead us to something awesome.

After this quick mini-lesson, students had a chance to tinker with Google Drawing.  I showed them where it was within Google Drive, but really gave no instruction on how to use it.  They had about 15-20 minutes just to click on everything they could find and see what it did.  Some students found a groove and actually created something they were excited about while others gave themselves permission not to worry about what the page looked like and just get messy clicking buttons.

During the tinkering time, there was a group of students who suddenly started using Google Drawing to make their own emoji.  When I started asking them about their work, they were a bit shy at first because they thought they were in trouble.  However, I told them that new emoji are being created all the time, and they never know when their ideas and creations might lead to the next emoji on our phones.  They were eager to carry on with their work.  I saw other students designing their own jewelry and another creating a building design.

Mrs. Freeman, the reading teacher, and I transitioned students from tinkering into using Google Drawing to make a cell for Dot Day.  We pulled up some examples of animal and plant cells and then students referenced those as they drew and labeled their cells.

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One of the things I loved was walking around and seeing how unique each student made his/her cell.  One student talked about how the organelles looked like bacon so he actually imported a picture of bacon into his cell drawing.  Awesome!

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As we neared the end of our time, we took a moment to highlight various student work.  It was selected for many reasons, not just because it had all of the parts of a cell labeled.

We closed by once again revisiting the idea that by trying a new tool, we are opening up possibilities for future projects and creations that might lead us to making our mark on the world in some fantastic way.

Happy Dot Week!

 

Remembering September 11th and Moving Forward

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Each year, our 5th graders learn about September 11th as a part of their social studies standards.  They have to know about the events of the day as well as how that act of terrorism has impacted our lives today.  It’s a scary topic for an elementary student who has no memories of this event.  For them, it’s really just a part of history that doesn’t resonate in the same way as it does for adults.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t explore this tough subject.

We look at the day from multiple angles and see what we can discover about terrorism but also the heroism of the day.  We’ve used this tragedy to think about how we respond to sadness, how we memorialize those who mean so much to us, and how we create good in the world.

We spread our learning across an entire day.  Each teacher leads a different part of the day and students rotate through several experiences.

With me, students use a Symbaloo to explore online content.  I love Symbaloo because I can group the links together in a meaningful way.  I split the links into 4 areas: looking back & reflecting, the events of the day, rebuilding, and remembering.  When students came in, I used our Flipgrid responses from last year to talk about how we have to rely on people’s memories and what has been left behind in order to learn about and learn from history.

Last year’s Flipgrid

We also talked about how different the documentation of 9/11 would be if it happened today.  It happened at a time when smart phones, instagram, Twitter, and Facebook didn’t exist.  We also talked about our comfort level with tragedy.  I labeled several of the links “graphic” so that students could decide if they really wanted to click on that area.  Students could stop at any point and take a break in the hallway or with the counselor.

Our 9/11 pathfinder

At the close of my session, students had a chance to talk about what they heard and saw.

With Ms. Mullins, students looked at the first responders of 9/11, including the rescue dogs.  They used the information they learned to write haikus in response to the heroism.

With Ms. Selleck, students read 14 Cows for America and talked about how other countries responded to our tragedy.  We saw September 11 as a time when other countries felt our pain and reached out to help us.  Students responded by creating artwork to symbolize a response to tragedy.

With Ms. Olin, students read Fireboat and talked about how everyone pulled together on September 11 to help one another regardless of jobs or beliefs.  We were all Americans.

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After lunch, we had a guest speaker.  Bob Hart has created a 9/11 memorial trail right here in Athens, and he came to tell the students about how he got the idea, what each part of the trail represents, and answer questions from the students

Bob Hart’s 9/11 Memorial Trail in Athens, GA

This was a new piece to our 9/11 remembrance day and it was powerful.  Bob had so many touching tributes to the victims, and each part of  his memorial was thoughtful and created with love and respect.  His trail is open to the public, so I’m sure many students will want to visit.

We even found out that his trail is featured in a Weird Georgia book which we have in the library!

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At the close of our day, students used Flipgrid to record their haikus, artwork, and reflections.  Three volunteers came in to help me facilitate the recording so that students had a quiet space.  You simply have to listen to their voices!

Students shared art, poetry, and reflections about 9/11 on a Flipgrid

While this day is tragic, it is a day that I cherish each year because our kids take so much away from the day about heroism, response to tragedy, and the pride of being an American.

Discovering Interests, Igniting Passions, and Amplifying Student Voice

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I’ve been doing a lot of work with teachers and students over the past couple of weeks focused on the IPICK strategy.  One of the big pieces of this strategy is “interest”.  The idea is that if we read things we are interested in then we are more likely to enjoy the books we read.  But…what if you don’t know your interests?

In each class I’ve taught, there has been a handful of students that no matter what you ask, what you suggest, or what stories you try to pull out they cannot name a single thing that they like.  This is frustrating, but rather than throw my hands up, it has made me very curious.  Why are these kids just shrugging their shoulders when you ask them what they like?  What can I do (we do as a school) to support all students in exploring their interests?

Ms. Spurgeon, a 4th/5th grade teacher, came to me with this exact same noticing. She had asked students to do an “All About Me” assignment, but when it came to interests, several students came up empty handed.  She wants us to do a project together this year using student interests, but we can’t start because we don’t know their interests.  We decided to try another route.

We were trying to decide what kind of text would immerse students in a variety of topics while still being very accessible to a range of reading levels.  I’m not really sure how we decided it, but we decided to try magazines.  I don’t really subscribe to magazines any more in the library, but we have all of the Ranger Rick, Zoobooks, Sports Illustrated, etc that we’ve subscribed to through the years.  I pulled out the boxes and put them all over the tables.  We did a very quick overview of how we really want to think about our interests and one way we do that is by trying as many things as we can.  Ms. Spurgeon talked about some foods she had tried like zebra and how she would never have known how much she liked the taste if she hadn’t tried it.  We modeled what “trying” a magazine looked like.  We were very specific to not read every page and were honest how we as adults often just flip through a magazine and pick out the pieces we want to read.  I loved this because I saw students perk up.  Knowing that they didn’t have to read the entire magazine was an invitation.  They dove in and started exploring.  They oohed and ahhed over so many pictures they saw, and Ms. Spurgeon and I had casual conversation with them about what they saw.

One moment stood out to me. Carlos and Carlena were looking at Kiki magazine together.  This magazine features a lot of fashion and crafts.  They discovered a page with a great 80’s style craft involving beads and safety pins.  The safety pins were put together on elastic string to create a bracelet.  They were glowing with excitement, so I told them I would take a picture of the page and send it to Gretchen Thomas at UGA to see if we could incorporate it into makerspace.

They looked a little shocked at first like, “You mean we could actually make this?”  Then, right after school I got an email from Carlos asking if I could email him the picture of the instructions.

It was that moment that told me I couldn’t let this momentum go.  This was a chance to empower individual students to explore a genuine interest.  Who cares if it was “just a craft”?  It was something they were suddenly passionate about when they had moments before been shrugging their shoulders.  That weekend, I went out and bought supplies, and I emailed them both first thing Monday morning.

I wasn’t surprised at all when I saw both of them walk in during their recess to get started on their project.

They came in for 3 days in a row during recess and didn’t even want to stop for lunch.

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As they’ve worked, I ‘ve shared their process via Twitter.  They have watched me documenting the process along the way, and I’ve told them that they are trying something out that they might teach to others or inspire other makerspace projects.

One day while we were working, Gretchen Thomas at UGA tweeted a picture of pins that her students had made.  When I showed it to Carlos and Carlena, they both smiled and said, “They’re doing that because of us?”

Another opportunity started to emerge because I saw how seeing the impact that they could have outside of our school walls was a motivator for them.  Next week for Dot Day, we are connecting with Sherry Gick and her 2nd grade class.  I asked Carlena and Carlos if they would share with this class how they are making their mark by being the first to try a craft in our makerspace and how they hope to pass on what they’ve learned along the way.  Without even blinking, they said yes.

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I have no idea where this is going to go, but I feel like I’ve tapped into something that I can’t let go.  I have to keep asking myself, my students, and our teachers how we can continue to explore interests, seek out individual passions, and amplify student voices beyond the walls of our school.  All of our students deserve to explore so many things to figure out what they are truly interested in.