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!

 

Barriers to Bridges: Using Tripline to Document the Civil War

Tripline

I love using Google tools.  Our district is a Google Apps for Education district. We have numerous kinds of devices in student hands from Asus netbooks to Samsung Chromebooks to HP laptops to Lenovo Thinkpads. Each of our 3rd-5th grade has their own device supplied by the district and in 5th grade these devices are predominantly Chromebooks and HP laptops. We mix devices in grade levels for 2 reasons. We don’t have enough of one devices to give one grade level the same device and not all of our programs run on all of the devices. This causes problems for us from time to time, but a big part of my philosophy is that when you come to a barrier you have to build a bridge to get over it.  Roadblocks are a nuisance and they slow down productivity, but they aren’t reason for giving up.

Recently, I had a great planning session with Ms. Shelley Olin in 5th grade to plan a Civil War project with her students. She wanted a way for students to remember the many events of the war as well as visualize where all of the events took place.  I’ve used Google Tour Builder several times to document virtual connections with classrooms around the world. I love that you automatically have an account if you have a Google account and that you can easily integrate your Youtube videos and Google drive photos into the tour.  I used this tool last year to document the 36 connections we made during World Read Aloud week and it is so nice to see all of the connections and play through the summary of where we traveled each day. I thought this would be a perfect tool for Ms. Olin.  Students already had an account through their Google apps accounts.  Our plan was for Ms. Olin to use this tool in her closing of her lesson each day.  Students would visit their Google tour and add new locations to a Civil War tour.  They would write summaries of each location or event and search for images on public domain sites such as the National Archives or Library of Congress.

Then, we faced a major road block.  Google Tour Builder requires a plugin that can only be installed on IOS or Windows.  Why was this a road block?  None of our Chromebooks could install the plugin.  How ridiculous that a Google computer couldn’t even use a Google tool!  Even though we were both frustrated, I didn’t want this one road block to keep us from carrying out our plan. I searched for another tool and stumbled upon Tripline.

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Tripline does many of the things that Google Tour Builder can do. You can create a map in a sequence of events, list specific dates and times, add summaries of what took place in each location, upload photos, and add links to other content.  It doesn’t integrate into Google apps, but it was the closest match that I could find.

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Ms. Olin scheduled each of her classes to come to the library to get started.  I did a quick demo on the board and then we got students setup with accounts.  Once they had accounts, each student created a tinker map.  This was a space for them to just mess around and explore all of the functions of Tripline.  Their map could be about anything and they could travel anywhere.  They would always have this map to come back to in order to tinker if they needed to during the course of their social studies project.

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It was fascinating to see what students decided to do during their tinkering time.  One student had moved to our school from Rome, GA. He located his old house and made a map of several important places to him while he lived there.  Another student made a dream vacation map and traveled to several countries that she only knew the names of.  She then pulled up a Google search to look for cities within those countries and added specific cities to her trip.  Each map was different but all students accomplished the same thing.  They got familiar with how Tripline functions.

tripline (1)

At the close of our time, we opened up a new map and got their Civil War map created and saved.  Now, they are ready to begin their study of the Civil War.  They will document major locations of the war through pinpoints on the map, pictures, and summaries of what happened at each location.  I can’t wait to see what they create.

 

World Book Night 2013

In the bag:  A letter about World Book Night, discussion guide, Wimpy Kid bookmark, and Middle School the Worst Years of My Life

In the bag: A letter about World Book Night, discussion guide, Wimpy Kid bookmark, and Middle School the Worst Years of My Life

Today is World Book Night.  This year, our library was chosen to be “a giver” for this special annual celebration.  Our selected book was Middle School the Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson.  My original plan was to target a specific group of our 5th graders who will be transitioning to middle school very soon.  However, after reading the book, I really thought that it was a book that all of our 5th graders should get the chance to enjoy.  With support from PTA and some book fair profits, I was able to buy extra copies of the book to add to the 20 copies given to me by World Book Night.  Our local independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop, was incredibly fast in getting the books to us and they even had them shipped to our school.  Avid was also the pickup spot for our box of books from the World Book Night organization.  Our family engagement specialist, Mimi Elliott-Gower, helped me plan a special time for our 5th graders.  She even made them all a bookworm snack.

Today at 1:45, all 5th graders gathered in the library.  We skyped with Shawn Hinger, media specialist extraordinaire at Clarke Middle School.  She answered a lot of questions that students had about the middle school library.  She had several of her students join her, and many of them answered questions about the library too.  I loved the participatory feel of our Skype.

Next, Tad MacMillan, Clarke Middle School principal, spoke to our 5th graders in person.  He discussed the summer learning slide and how reading could help deter that slide.  He encouraged kids to think beyond reading 15 minutes per day and instead think about how many minutes they actually had in their summer.  Wouldn’t a goal of 45-60 minutes per day be even better?  He ended his time by reading from one of the other World Book Night selections, The House on Mango Street.

IMG_0526Then, it was time for the big reveal.  I told the kids about World Book Night.  Some of the kids had already asked me if I was going to be a giver, so I book talked my book to them and let them guess which book I was giving away.  Once they guessed the title, I told them about how I wanted to give more than just 20 copies of the book away and with the help of PTA and book fair that was exactly what I was going to do right now!  I went over the discussion guide with the kids and urged them to read the book with their families and begin to talk about their goals and worries about middle school.  Then, we passed out bags to all students in 5th grade.  Each bag contained a letter to families about World Book Night, a bookmark, a discussion guide, a bag of bookworms, and the book.  IMG_0504

Even though I deviated from my original plan for World Book Night and even though I didn’t really randomly pass out the books like WBN suggests doing, I feel like this was the right thing to do.  Fifty two copies of the book were distributed, and I feel like there will be at least 52 excited kids who will possibly have some great conversations with their families based in a humorous, yet gripping book.  So many of the kids came up and thanked me for the books, and when I went into their classrooms to check on them, I saw several of them already reading.  What an exciting day!IMG_0547

WHAT IS WORLD BOOK NIGHT?
World Book Night is an annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading,
person to person. Each year on April 23, tens of thousands of people go out into their
communities and give half a million free World Book Night paperbacks to light and nonreaders. In 2013, World Book Night will be celebrated in the U.S., the UK, and Ireland.
World Book Night is about giving books and encouraging reading in those who don’t
regularly do so. But it is also about more than that: It’s about people, communities and
connections, about reaching out to others and touching lives in the simplest of ways—
through the sharing of stories.
World Book Night is a nonprofit organization. We exist because of the support of
thousands of book givers, booksellers, librarians, and financial supporters who believe in
our mission. Set for April 23 each year to honor Shakespeare’s birthday, World Book
Night was successfully launched in the U.K. in 2011, and World Book Night was first
celebrated in the U.S. in 2012. Thank you to our U.K. friends for such a wonderful idea!
WHY IS WORLD BOOK NIGHT IMPORTANT?
Why does World Book Night exist? Reading for pleasure improves literacy, actively
engaging emerging readers in their desire to read. Reading changes lives, improves
employability, social interaction, enfranchisement, and can have a positive effect on
mental health and happiness. Book readers of all ages are more likely to participate in
positive activities such as volunteering, attending cultural events, and even physical
exercise.
Or more simply put, books are fun—and they can be life-changing.

Little Free Library Update

A display is ready to inform shoppers at our book fair about our Little Free Library project

A display is ready to inform shoppers at our book fair about our Little Free Library project

We have very exciting news in our 5th grade Little Free Library project.  Before spring break about 14 kids mailed letters to Home Depot in Athens to ask if they could support our project with some materials.  Kenneth Sims, operation manager, emailed me back to ask for a specific list of what we needed.  After some more research on the Little Free Library site and consulting with my talented Dad, I sent him a list of what we would need.  I knew the list was a lot to ask for, so I told him that we would appreciate anything that they could do.

He emailed me back with great news.  Home Depot is donating all of the materials we need to build the libraries, building both libraries for us, delivering them to our school for the kids to decorate, and helping us install them when the time comes.  I was absolutely floored.  I even got a call from the builder before he started the project to just make sure that all of the plans that they were doing fit with what we needed.  I can’t wait to share pictures with you of our project.

We went into this project with a lot of faith that our community would come through for us to make this project happen.  It is so great to know that a major business in the community is so giving of their resources in the name of children, community, and literacy.

Now, we have a lot of work to do, but one major weight is lifted off our shoulders.  The kids were beaming when I went to their classes to share the news with them.  One student in particular was very excited because we realized that she included my email address in her letter in order for the manager to contact us.  She was the only student to do this.

Our next steps include:

  • Painting the designs on our libraries
  • Nailing down our second location with some more persuasive letters
  • Raising money for the registration of the libraries
  • Doing a book drive to fill the libraries and have a stock pile of books to replenish the libraries
  • Writing speeches to present the libraries at the Moving On Ceremony.
  • Installing the downtown library in its location
  • Probably some things we haven’t thought of!

If you would love to help us with our project, we are wide open for help.  One way you could help us is by purchasing a book at our book fair next week or shopping our wishlist at our online book fair through April 5th.  Here’s info on our online fair:

It’s Book Fair time at our school! I’ve created a classroom wish list to add new books to our classroom library. You can view my classroom wish list and purchase books from our school Book Fair website. These books will be treasured by students for years to come.

You can visit our online Book Fair anytime until 04/05/2013. All books purchased will be shipped directly to me at school with no shipping charge. Thanks for getting our class excited about reading.

Your support is appreciated,

Andy Plemmons

Scholastic Book Fairs inspire a lifetime love of reading. A percentage of the total proceeds raised during the Book Fair will stay with the school and help get more kids reading, kids reading more! Visit the Book Fair Web site for detailed information.

 

Skyping with Little Free Library

IMG_0082Our 5th grade Little Free Library Project is moving ahead.  You can read about our progress here and here.  A few weeks ago, I talked with Rick Brooks, co-founder of the Little Free Library movement, on the phone.  He contacted me after seeing my Youtube video introducing the project to our 5th graders.  After a few emails and facebook posts back and forth, we finally had a long phone conversation where we discussed other Little Free Library projects in schools as well as some potential ways that technology could be incorporated into our Barrow project.  I shared with him how our students were working in teams where each student had a specific job to do such as researching, writing, designing, and presenting.  During our call, he offered to help us in any way he was able to, so I suggested a Skype session with our students.  He was happy to do this.IMG_0080

On Tuesday and Thursday, Rick skyped with researchers, writers, and task managers from Ms. Cross and Ms. Slongo’s Class.  He told them a bit about the mission and vision of Little Free Libraries, shared specific parts of the website students might visit, and suggested some videos for them to watch.  The kids were able to ask Rick questions about things like green building techniques, location of little free libraries, and which libraries seemed to be more popular than others.  We even had a student have a conversation with Rick in Spanish.IMG_0084

IMG_0081More than anything, this Skype session made the project more “real” for the students.  They left the session with a new energy for the project.  Rick is following what we do, and we appreciate the time and energy that he has put into this worldwide movement and especially for taking time out of his busy schedule to support our small project here in Athens!

 

Martin Luther King Jr Lessons: A Different Spin

 

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Every year, I offer lessons to accompany the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  There are so many inspiring stories about this influential man, but students hear some of the same stories every year.  This year, I wanted to offer a different spin and introduce a recent book called Belle, The Last Mule at Gee’s Bend by Calvin Ramsey and Bettye Stroud.  The book is most appropriate for grades 3-5, but it could certainly be used with others.

Prior to reading the story, I build a bit of background knowledge about Gee’s Bend by watching the first few minutes of this video about the Gee’s Bend Quilters.

I wanted students to know the importance of the quilts to the people of Gee’s Bend as well as understand a bit of the culture of Gee’s Bend, so we only watched a bit of the first Bender’s interview.

Next, we used Google Earth to zoom into Gee’s Bend and talk a little about the geography of the area and where the name “bend” came from.

In 4th grade, students are working on common core standard ELACC4RL3:  Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).  As we read the story, I asked students to pay close attention to the characters, setting, and plot so that they could discuss it at the close of the story.

In 5th grade, students are working on common core standard ELACC5RL2:  Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.  To build some background knowledge on theme, we watch the first few minutes of this video:

5th grade reflected on theme throughout the book to inform their conversation at the close of the story.

In both 4th and 5th grade, we read the book and stopped along the way to have impromptu discussions.  Many of our discussions came around the part of the book that is about the right to vote and how Martin Luther King, Jr. encouraged all African Americans to vote because it was their right.

last mule today's meet

Student contributions in Today’s Meet

At the close of both lessons, students went to computers and used Today’s Meet to have a silent conversation about their particular standard.  4th grade posted about characters, setting, and plot, and 5th grade posted about theme.  I encouraged students to read what others were writing and write follow-up posts or questions for their classmates.  I wouldn’t say that the conversation was particularly connected at this first attempt, but there were definitely things that I liked.  For example, in 5th grade, every student was able to post a comment about theme whether it was right or not.  I could quickly see who really understood theme and who didn’t without publicly naming what was “right” and “wrong”.  Also, at the very end, I had students read back through the posts and decide which comments stood out to them the most as really identifying theme.  Students could easily name who said what as they were speaking.  For example, “I liked how Aidia said that anyone can be a hero”.  It was a way for students to acknowledge the contributions of their peers and accurately quote their contributions.  Sometimes it’s hard for students to remember exactly what someone said aloud, but this printed text made that easier to remember.

I definitely would like to try Today’s Meet again in other settings, and I’m happy to find a place for this wonderful story to give new life to a topic that students have heard many times.

Little Free Library 5th Grade Project

I’ve known about Little Free Libraries for awhile now, and since I learned about them I wanted to help establish one at our school.  I was waiting for just the right moment.  This summer I attended the Decatur Book Festival and saw several creative Little Free Libraries that were being auctioned off and it made me want to establish one even more.  I posted a picture of the libraries on our media center facebook page and immediately Ms. Cross, a 5th grade teacher, said she wanted to help make this happen at our school.  Her comment made me think about the gift that our 5th grade gives to the school at Moving On Ceremony at the end of each year as a way for the 5th graders to make their mark on the school before they leave.  Since our 5th graders won’t get the opportunity to go to school in our brand new building next year, I thought this year’s gift needed to be extra special.  I had found the perfect fit for the idea.

I began talking with people at our school about the project.  As always, our art teacher, Rita Foretich, was on board to help weave this project into an interdisciplinary experience.  Other teachers in the school that don’t even work with our 5th graders began offering ideas too and within a few days our spark of idea was really starting to grow.

I sat down with Mrs. Foretich and we did an initial brainstorming of what our project might look like.  We thought of materials, resources, locations, and also a sequence of events that would need to happen in order for the project to be done by the end of the year.  Our plan consisted of:  an intro to Little Free Libraries for the whole 5th grade, persuasive writing in 5th grade classroom, continued research and conversation in the media center, and little free library designs and artwork in art.  I took our plan to the 5th grade team for feedback and additions.  The teachers brainstormed ways for the students to really take ownership of the project such as donating their own books to stock the libraries and bringing in $1 each to cover the registration for the 2 libraries.

We launched into the first phase right after this session.  I made a short introduction video using screencast-o-matic and uploaded it to Youtube.  Mrs. Foretich showed the video at the beginning of an art class.

As she showed it, the kids immediately began having ideas and wanting to contribute them.  She developed a Google form to share with the students so that they could all submit their feedback without taking up too much of the class time to hold a discussion.  Mrs. Foretich’s student teacher also began contributing her knowledge and connections to UGA.

The next step will be for the student to brainstorm more about the materials, labor, and location so that they can begin writing persuasive letters to individuals and organizations for support.

Our goal is to create 2 Little Free Libraries by the end of the year.  One will be installed at the new Barrow and one will be installed somewhere near downtown so it is accessible to our students and the community on that end of town.  Who knows what this project will develop into, but it is already full of participatory culture as more and more people contribute their ideas, their expertise, and their creativity.

If you have ideas or resources for this project, feel free to leave them in the comments or contact our library.