Kindness Rocks

Third grade studies rocks and minerals in science.  Ms. Hicks, 3rd grade Spectrum teacher, is always dreaming up ways to extend and enrich the study.  We have collaborated together many times, and I always love leaping into something new.  In the past, we’ve Skyped with a jewelry studio and designed our own jewelry.  We’ve thought about climbing wall design and how the hardness of different rocks and minerals would support the design. Students even 3D printed prototypes of their climbing walls.  This year we once again worked together to add a new layer to this science unit.

I’ve been watching lots of people getting involved in kindness rock projects locally and globally. The idea of these projects is to spread words of inspiration in the world through randomly placed rocks and inspire people to create good in the world.

Our local Athens Rock Project

I’ve found a few of these rocks myself and know that it gives you a bright moment in your day just to know that someone cared enough to create a piece of art intended for good.

Gretchen Thomas, UGA instructor, and I have been brainstorming the idea of weaving this project into makerspace, but we held off this semester.  I passed the idea on to Ms. Hicks and we decided to give it a trial run.

We started by showing images of rocks and asking students if they had ever found a rock like these.  I was surprised at how many stories were already in our small group of 15 kids.  From a rock in a stream to a rock in the park, students had stories of words and images they had found on rocks.

Then we watched this video to consider the meaning of a project like this.

We also read an excerpt from If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian and Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor. These books helped us think beyond a rock just being a rock but instead a symbol of something else.

At tables, students used an index card to plan out their rock.  We wanted them to really take their time in planning so that they chose their words with purpose, so Ms. Hicks and I conferenced with students as they worked. They chose a word or phrase, wrote a short explanation of their choice, and sketched a design for their art.  Students also selected a rock. All of this took one class session.

In the next session, students used paint pens and paint to design their rock.  Most started by getting the word(s) onto the rock and then worked on design. If they finished early, they helped one another fan portions of rocks to get them dry enough to keep painting on.

My wonderful computer technician, Allie, added layers of Mod Podge onto the rocks before our 3rd session. Here’s where this project is taking a different turn that many of the kindness rock projects.  We don’t really want to be random.  We want the person who finds our rock to know a bit more about it.

In our 3rd session, we used Flipgrid to record videos to tell the story of our rock.  Students talked about the reason they chose their word and even why they designed it the way they did.  We also brainstormed what someone would need to know in order to get to the video we recorded.

I took this brainstormed and turned it into an information card to put with our rocks.

Instead of randomly placing the rocks, we are putting them all in one container. We’ve talked with Avid Bookshop in Five Points and will be placing this container somewhere outside the shop.  Our hope is that people will select a rock, take an information card, watch the accompanying video, and hopefully leave a response video to the student.

It’s all a big experiment, and I’ve tried to be very open with students about that from the beginning.  Anything could happen.  We of course want every rock to be taken and for every person to leave a response, but we also know that might not happen.  Whatever happens, we’ll know that our rocks have gone into the world and caused at least one person to pause for just a moment and think about kindness.

Before our rocks go to Avid, we’re making a few more.  If your’e in the area, keep your eyes open in Five Points for a clear acrylic container near Avid Bookshop sometime this week!

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Connecting with Capstone and the PebbleGo Team through Skype

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Our 2nd graders have been thrilled by all of the people voting for their Barrow Peace Prize project.  Voting will continue until February 17th, so there’s still time to take a look at their project and vote.

Today, we were fortunate to have a Skype session with the PebbleGo team at Capstone. PebbleGo is a set of databases with informational text focused on social studies, biographies, science, animals, and dinosaurs. The text is geared to students in lower elementary grades, but it is useful for students at all grades as a starting place for research. Our teachers love the accessibility of the text, how the text is broken into consistent  headings, and that it reads the text to students in a human voice. Our 2nd graders used PebbleGo as the first resource in their Barrow Peace Prize research on Jesse Owen, Bessie Coleman, Ruby Bridges, Charles Drew, Langston Hughes, and Wilma Rudolph.

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During our Skype, we connected with:

  • Tom Zemlin, Director of Software Development
  • Rachel Wallwork & Stephanie Miller, Senior Product Planning Managers
  • Amy Cox, Director of Library Marketing

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Before our session, we sent some questions to PebbleGo and they sent some questions to us.

For PebbleGo:

  • How are PebbleGo articles written?
  • What do you know about the number of people who use PebbleGo?
  • How do you decide what topics to include in PebbleGo?

For us, the Capstone team asked in advance:

  • What do you like about PebbleGo?
  • What do you wish were different?
  • What seems to be missing or what did you have trouble finding the answer to?

We opened our Skype by giving an update on the statistics from our Barrow Peace Prize Projects. At the time of our Skype, our work had been viewed in 121 different locations around the world, according to our Smore page.

The Capstone team introduced themselves and then launched into telling students the process that the team goes through to decide on and create articles. We learned that PebbleGo has been used by over 260,000,000 students around the world.

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Our students took turns lining up at the computer to offer answers to the questions from Capstone, and those comments and questions sparked additional conversation.

Our students expressed their love for how PebbleGo reads to them, has videos, is broken up into sections, and has info on lots of people.

Some of the wishes they had were to have a comprehension check at the end of an article and to include information on character traits for the people in biographies. The character trait comment launched an additional conversation with the Capstone team. We told them how our social studies curriculum includes a study of character traits woven into the people in history. This was hard for our research because we felt like character traits were a bit of an opinion based on facts. The Capstone team had great wonderings for us. They wanted to know if we thought character traits should be separate articles in PebbleGo or if they should be embedded in the biography articles. Our students overwhelmingly responded that they wanted them embedded.

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This then took us to the question about what Capstone does with all of the wishes that it gets from its users. We learned about how they keep lists of wishes and start to notice patterns of requests. When something is requested enough, it might be put into PebbleGo or it might even come up for a vote from PebbleGo users. Within this conversation, we learned that it takes several months for an article to go from an idea to the final piece we see in PebbleGo and the work happens in multiple locations including New York and India.

I loved how the Capstone team listened to our students and how flexible the conversation was with over 100 students. We were well prepared with our student comments and questions, but there was plenty of space to find tangents that revealed more information for our students.

One of the things that I heard from Capstone is that they go through the same kind of research that we are asking our students to go through. They gather their information from multiple sources, create many drafts, and review their work before it is sent out to an audience. It was important for our students to hear this from a major company and see the connections to what we are doing in school.

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Thank you so much to Amy Cox and the Capstone team for making this Skype happen for our students today. It was a wonderful addition to a project that has meant a lot to our students.

Kicking Off Our #Geniuscon Project with Peter Reynolds

IMG_1849A few months ago, Matthew Winner and Sherry Gick, superhero librarians, put out a call for schools to join them in a project called #Geniuscon.

In the words of Matthew and Sherry:

“Kids are genius. They don’t perceive limits or boundaries in the ways that hinder most adults. Their solutions to life’s problems can seem convoluted, indirect, and unnecessary, but often the ideas of kids can be the most profound.”

#Geniuscon gives kids the freedom to explore one question:  If you could change one thing about your school, what would you do?

Mrs. Ramseyer’s 2nd grade classroom has teamed up with me in the library to explore this question.  Mrs. Ramseyer and I sat down and mapped out some times, topics, and standards on the media center calendar.  We wanted time for:  brainstorming, question development, research, product development, and sharing.  Our timeline spans from now until May.  We devoted most of our time to research and product development.

I also met with Gretchen Thomas, who teaches at the University of Georgia.  She has several of her students who are interested in partnering with us throughout this project.  Their main role will be to facilitate students during the research process to help them think of all of the possibilities of where to find the answers to their burning questions.  They aren’t there to give answers but rather to build bridges over barriers that students might face.


Today was our official kickoff.  To start, we watched this video:

The kids immediately began yelling “Why don’t you just walk up the stairs?”  It was hilarious.  The whole point of watching the video was to bring up the idea that we often hold the solutions to our problems if we take the time to look inside ourselves rather than immediately yelling for help.  We spent some time talking about the word “genius” and how we all have genius ideas within us.

Next, we read Rose’s Garden by Peter H. Reynolds.  In this story, Rose travels the world collecting seeds.  She finally decides to stop and explore a city where she discovers a patch of land in need of color.  This is where she decides to start making her mark on the world by planting her seeds.  Without giving too much away, her efforts inspire a community with her genius idea.

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I loved how this book fit into our discussion of what it means to be genius.  It moved us straight into our #Geniuscon question.  Mrs. Ramseyer and I had already talked about how we didn’t want to influence how the kids answered the question, but we did want to give them an opportunity to brainstorm before they chose their focus topic.  We put the question on 2 big pieces of paper and split the class in half.  Each student had a marker to participate in a Chalk Talk, a silent conversation.  All students began writing their responses to the questions as well as asked one another questions about their ideas.  All of this was done in writing.  Mrs. Ramseyer, Mrs. Vaughn (EIP teacher), and I all added to the conversation too.

After about 10 minutes, students mingled between the two chalk talks to cross pollinate their ideas.


We moved our 2 chalk talks to the floor and all stood around them.  As we looked at or responses, I asked students to look for ideas that stood out to them or topics that seemed to be coming up.  We identified ideas such as:

  • Additions to our school:  adding more playground equipment, building a garden, expanding our school
  • Changes to rules:  additional books on the max checkout in the library, additional “be’s” to our 5 be’s,
  • Technology:  taking home iPads and netbooks, being able to bring technology from home, using our 3D printer
  • Behavior:  addressing the bullying in our school, being kind
  • And more!

The pages were so filled with ideas that we couldn’t really talk about them all.  After this discussion, we sat down for a big surprise:  a Skype with Peter H. Reynolds!  Peter was in Florida doing some work, and he took time out of his busy day to join us.  After saying a quick hello, students took turns stepping up to the webcam and saying what they wanted to change about our school.  Peter validated each student’s idea and even expanded upon the idea with his own thoughts.  He encouraged students to think about how they could illustrate each of their ideas and turn it into a book, which the students are very interested in doing now.  We will probably make this an additional piece to our project:  possibly even an extension into the art room!

We closed out our time with Peter Reynolds with a friendly goodbye and the encouraging words of “connecting the dots” and “making our mark on the world”.  We can’t think him enough for taking time to visit with us.  He is such an advocate for allowing students to show off their genius and let their creative energy flow.

In class, students will begin to finalize their topics and next week they will return to the library to develop questions to prompt their research.  What an exciting start!

If you want to learn more about #Geniuscon, I encourage you to attend the TL Cafe Webinar on Monday February 3 at 8PM EST.  


Second Little Free Library

Joel typed his letter, conference with me and his teachers, addressed his envelope, and dropped it in the mail

Joel typed his letter, conference with me and his teachers, addressed his envelope, and dropped it in the mail

We are currently looking for a home for our 2nd Little Free Library that is being built by Home Depot.  Our school attendance zone stretches from Five Points into downtown Athens, so the students wanted a library to go in each end of our zone.  Many of our students live near Lay Park, Lyndon House, and the downtown fire department so they really want our 2nd library to go near that area.  Today, a letter was mailed out to Lay Park by a student who goes to Lay Park a lot.  Many of our students use this space during the summer and after school, so it really would be a perfect spot for our 2nd library.  Students who live in that area could take books from our school donation site and make sure the library stays full.  It would be a great source of community service and responsibility for our students.  I’m sure that there will be many steps to get approval to put a library in a spot like this.  Now, we will wait and see what the response is from the county and Lay Park, but we are going o think positive thoughts for now.

Joel's letter explains LFL and makes a personal connection

Joel’s letter explains LFL and makes a personal connection


“Same, Same but Different”: Making Connections through Blogging with 2nd Grade

983 miles to Van Meter

983 miles to Van Meter

I’m so excited about the project that two 2nd grade classes are working on right now.  Mrs. Ramseyer and Mrs. Wright’s classes are connecting with Shannon Miller’s 2nd grade students in Van Meter, Iowa.  Right now, our 2nd graders are working on opinion writing.  The idea for this project started there, but it has grown into so much more through email and face-to-face conversations with the teachers and tweets, emails, and Google Docs with Shannon Miller.


Yesterday, the 2 second grade classes came to the library to kickoff the project.  We looked at Google Earth and mapped the distance from our school to Van Meter Elementary in Van Meter, Iowa.  It is 983 miles and would take over 15 hours to drive there.  Students were also curious about how long it would take to walk there, so Google Earth showed us it would take about 304 hours!  With the approaching snow storm, I’m not sure I want to try that one!

Next we talked about what it means to blog.  I showed them the library blog and how it is read by people all around the world.  We even looked at the Clustr map showing where our blog readers come from.  I was trying to build their understanding of how large your audience is when you publish your writing online.

The students will use Kid Blog to create their blogs.  This tool allows you to quickly create multiple accounts through an Excel spreadsheet upload.  No email addresses are required.  Then, all students have to do is go to the blog, select their name, and type in their password to type their posts.  We took a look at this, and you should have heard the excitement when they saw that their names were already on the screen.

Writing our paper blogs

Writing our paper blogs

IMG_0016Finally, we had the kids brainstorm with a partner what they might write about in a first post.  We wanted the focus to be “About Me”.  Before we sent them to tables to write, I reminded them of the importance of not including personal information such as full names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.  At tables, each student wrote a paper blog post about themselves.  Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Ramseyer, and I all walked around and conferenced with students on their posts.  We were impressed with how much students were willing to write.  I was reminded of the importance of kids having an authentic audience for their work and how motivating that audience can be to even the most reluctant of writers.

Same, Same but Different will be a theme for our conversations

Same, Same but Different will be a theme for our conversations

Today, we connected via Skype with Shannon and her students.  We read the book Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw.   It was such a perfect book because it pushes the notion that all over the world we do things that are the same but they might look a little different.  During our Skype, we paused and let the kids talk about Iowa and Georgia.  They stepped up to the camera and asked questions about one another about the weather, activities, and school population.  They made several connections to the story.  For example, in Iowa it is about to snow a lot.  It takes a major snow for them to get out of school.  We get snow here in GA, too, but we get out of school if there is just a dusting.  Same, same but different!  As we blog with one anther, it is our hope to share our favorite books and opinions as well as continue to explore the idea of how connected we are in the world even though things might look and sound a little different.  I have a feeling students will continue to say “Same, same but different”.IMG_0028

On Monday and Tuesday, our 2nd graders will type and post their blogs.  We will mail our paper versions of our writing to Iowa so that Shannon’s students can practice commenting on them before they actually comment online.  She will do the same with her students’ writing so that we can practice commenting, too.

IMG_0025From there, we hope to connect some more through Skype and through the continued writing of our blogs.

This is going to be a very rich experience for these students, teachers, and librarians!

Students stepped up to ask one another about living in Iowa and Georgia

Students stepped up to ask one another about living in Iowa and Georgia

Becoming Blind

Students in Mrs. Slongo’s ELT class became blind last week, but not like you might think.  For the past two years, Mrs. Slongo has taken her 5th grade class on a journey of exploration and empathy through blind sculptor Michael Naranjo’s work.  Students watch a YouTube video about his work and philosophy.  Then, students are blindfolded and given a lump of clay to sculpt what they picture in their mind.  Last year students wrote letters to Naranjo and sent them to him, but this year Mrs. Slongo wanted the letters to be in a format that was more connected to Naranjo.  After students wrote letters about their experiences “being blind” and how they were inspired by his work, students came to the media center to record their letters using Audacity. Their work will be burned onto a CD and taken to one of Naranjo’s art exhibits that Mrs. Slongo’s sister will be attending.  It was so inspiring to listen to these 5th grade students share how they were inspired by Naranjo’s passion to keep doing what he loves even though he can’t “see” his work.

You can listen to each students’ letter here.