Letters for Justice: Empowering Young Voices on Topics that Matter

There’s a lot going on in the world right now and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many current issues being debated and decided on in our country and around the world.  As a teacher librarian, it’s challenging because I want to support all students and families knowing that I might not personally agree with their perspectives.  I make sure that I step back and listen to the students, support their research and perspectives, and check my own beliefs.

Recently, Ms. Olin, 5th grade social studies teacher, came to me with an idea. She wanted to get students thinking about current US & World issues and considering what their own perspectives were based on the facts of the issues. She also wanted them to know that their voices mattered in the world and that they could get their thoughts out to local, state, and national representatives as well as the general public to have an influence on decisions being made.

Ms. Olin started this project in her classroom by sharing the book I Have  a Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres. This sparked discussion about basic human rights and current issues in the world. She also shared news sites with them so that they could start reading current articles about various trending topics, especially if they weren’t familiar with the current topics being debated. Through these sites, students began to choose a topic that they were interested in, curious about, or passionate for. Sites included Newsela, CNN Student News, PBS News Hour, and Time for Kids.

After two days of exploring, students selected their topic.

In the library, we focused on the importance of raising our voices when we have concerns. I read excerpts from Be A Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson.

“Don’t wait. Don’t wait to be powerful, to change the lives and communities around you significantly.”

I also read excerpts from It’s Your World by Chelsea Clinton.

“We can–and should–respectfully disagree with others who have reached different answers from ours” and “Even if we disagree with one another, it’s important to recognize what the facts are”.

Ms. Olin and I both encouraged students to look at issues from all sides and to gather as many facts as possible. With those facts, they could form their own opinions on the issues and brainstorm some possible actions they hope are taken.

We took some time to look at the Letters to the Next President project to see letters that were written by students from many location about a variety of topics. Students could sort the letters by their own topic and see what other students were saying.

As students looked at example opinions and continued to gather facts, they started filling out organizers to get their own thoughts together.  In class, they began writing letters, protest signs, and editorial cartoons to express the facts and their own views.

Finally, students came to the library to begin sharing their voice.  We spent some time talking about how we can make our voice visible. We could of course mail the letters and artwork to their intended recipients, but how else could we share our voice? I was able to talk to the students about my recent recognition as an AASL Social Media Superstar for Sensational Student Voice and how social media and collaborative tools like Flipgrid allow us to spread our voices to an even larger audience.

We hope our voices are heard by our local, state, and national representatives, but even if they aren’t, we can share our voices with others and offer perspectives and actions that might encourage them to support our cause or make the world a better place.  As students finished their work, they recorded their voices in a Flipgrid so that others can consider their perspectives and possibly join their collective voice.

We hope you will take time to listen to each student. If one of the voices speaks to you, give them a response.  Better yet, if they inspire you, consider writing your own letter and adding your voice to our grid.  We invite your students to join our voices as well.

As we were closing our time in the library, some of the students spoke up and said, “I bet Mr. Trump won’t even read our letters.” This was a great opportunity for Ms Olin and I to repeatedly say to the students, “Your voice matters”. We talked about collective voice, and how sometimes a single voice isn’t heard by someone like the president. However, that single voice can inspire other voices who come together collectively around a common cause. This was a great closing because even as an adult I sometimes wonder why I should even take time to call or write my representatives. However, I was reminded that our individual voices do matter and collectively they make impact.

 

The 2016 Barrow Peace Prize is Ready for Your Votes!

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Our Barrow 2nd graders have been hard at work researching 6 people from history to nominate for the Barrow Peace Prize. As part of this process, the students developed a list of criteria for what character traits should be represented by the winner of the peace prize. They wrote persuasive essays and created pieces of art work with Ms. Foretich, our art teacher.  You can read more about what the students have done in the post, Beginning the Barrow Peace Prize.

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This week, students have been coming in to the library in groups of 4 for 15 minutes to record their persuasive essays. When they come, I give them a quick overview of Flipgrid and remind them that there work will be seen by lots of people. Then, they split up around the library and we make sure that the space is relatively quiet for recording. I setup a question for each person from history so that all of the Ruby Bridges videos are together, all the Langston Hughes videos, etc. During the process, students take a picture of their artwork for the Flipgrid and then record themselves reading. Some chose to show their artwork while recording, and other chose to have their face on the video.

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One of the things I love the most about Flipgrid is that the videos are instantly uploaded in one central place. I don’t have to spend hours uploading and naming 100 videos after students have recorded.

Now that the videos are recorded, we need you and everyone you know to watch the videos and help us decide which person from history should be the 2016 Barrow Peace Prize winner.  I’ve created a Smore page to pull everything together.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Visit https://www.smore.com/dfmsd-2016-barrow-peace-prize 
  • Click on the link to each grid an watch as many videos as you can.
  • Click the heart icon on any video that you “like”.
  • At the bottom of the Smore, you will find a link to the Google form to vote on the person you think should win.  Or…you can click here.
  • Finally, please share our project with your students and networks so that we can have a record-breaking number of votes this year!

On February 18th, we have big plans for how we will announce the winner.  We can’t reveal exactly what is going to happen just yet, but we promise it’s big!  Happy voting!

 

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.

Crafting Opinion Writing with Puppet Pals in First Grade

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Almost every class in our school is doing some form of opinion writing at the moment.  Last week, 1st grade spent some time tinkering with the Puppet Pals app on the iPad to see how it worked.  We have also been reading books that feature some type of opinion such as The Sandwich Swap and Sylvia’s Spinach.

In class, the 1st graders have been writing an opinion piece, so they brought that piece of writing to the library to use the Puppet Pals app to record their script.  We started on the floor in front of the projector.  I projected an iPad and opened the puppet pal app.  I quickly went through the various screens and made sure everything still looked familiar to students from their tinkering sessions.

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Then, I showed the students a few extra steps they would need to do in order to save their video.  They would need to give their story a title and export the story to the camera roll on the iPad.  I also used this time to explain what my role for the day would be.  Since each class has about 20 students, twenty videos needed to be uploaded to Youtube and put into a playlist for the teacher to share in class and with families.  I really wanted this step to be done while the students were in the library, so I told the students that uploading videos was my only role during our work time.  The teacher was available to walk around and monitor and assist students who were recording, but more importantly, the whole class had expertise in Puppet Pals because of our tinkering and could help one another.  I encouraged them to ask one another for help if they got stuck so that I could focus on getting their videos uploaded.

During the work time, there was not a single student who came to ask me for help to use Puppet Pals.  There were certainly students who got stuck, but they relied on one another to figure things out.  I really saw the benefit of giving them time to tinker in the previous lesson.  They also were empowered to support one another rather than rely on an adult to help.

When they finished recording, they did their additional steps to export their videos and then formed a line in the middle of the library at my table.  I opened the video on the camera roll and selected to upload the video to Youtube.  I signed into my channel on each iPad.  The students helped me name the video and stayed until the video was uploaded.  Then, they went back to their work space and continued using Puppet Pals to tinker and try out a story of their own choice.

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Once all of the videos were uploaded, I selected them all in my account and added them to a playlist.

We worked for a full 45 minutes to record, upload, and continue tinkering.  There was little to no behavior problems.  Every student who had an opinion writing finished was able to film and upload a video.

Now the classes are thinking about a next step for Puppet Pals.  The students are very curious about creating a story with the characters in Puppet Pals, so I have a feeling that we will be crafting some narrative stories very soon.

We Need You to Vote on Whether these Explorers are Heroes or Villains!

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Fourth grade has been hard at work.  They have been researching multiple explorers in their social studies standards and considering whether those explorers are heroes or villains.  It all started with a lesson in the library using a video about Christopher Columbus, Encounter by Jane Yolen, and Tagxedo.

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After that, students selected an explorer and began their research.  They took their information and used that to write a persuasive piece convincing an audience that their explorer is a hero or villain.  They used Flipgrid to record themselves reading their persuasive piece.  All of the Flipgrid videos are housed on an Google Site for easy access and each explorer has a Google form voting tool to indicated whether that explorer is a hero or a villain.

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Now, this is where you come in!  We need you to watch our videos and vote on our heroes or villains.  You can choose an explorer and spend some time on that one explorer or you can watch them all!  You can share this project with other classrooms or educators and ask them to share.

If you choose to do this with a class, we would love to hear about it!  You can tweet pictures or comments to @plemmonsa  Most importantly we want you to vote and share.

 

Soon after our Thanksgiving break, we will take a look at the results and most likely connect with our friends at Flipgrid to talk about coding and our project’s reach.

We hope that our project makes you think about the many perspectives in our world’s history and that you enjoy hearing our voices.

Barrow Explorers

Click here to access our Explorer Google Site!  Tip:  If you are in Google Chrome, you will need to click on the shield in your address bar to load the “unsafe script”. This will show you the embedded grids.  Otherwise, just click on the link on each explorer’s name to access the Flipgrid on a separate page.  Feel free to “like” student videos by clicking the hearts, but don’t forget to vote on the Google forms on our site.

Black History Month Research and Persuasive Commercials in 2nd Grade

IMG_1815Second grade has been working on a big research project.  Each student selected one of five African Americans to research.  Rather than write a traditional informational paper on their person, the 2nd grade teachers and I decided to weave persuasive writing into the project.  Students would think about which historical figure should be on a next US postage stamp and would create a persuasive commercial to convince an authentic audience to vote for their historical figure.

We actually began our project with persuasion.  Students spent time talking with one another about what it means to persuade.  They mentioned things like:

  • convince someone to do something
  • get someone to get something for you
  • make someone change their mind

Anytime I teach persuasive writing, I want kids to leave with an understanding that persuasive writing isn’t just about getting someone to get something for you.  It’s one of the most powerful kinds of writing that can bring about change.  However, many kids connect with the idea of commercials and convincing their families to buy something for them, so we often start there and expand.

We watched a commercial of one of this year’s hot holiday toys, the Flutterbye Fairy.

IMG_1814We used this commercial to think about a structure for persuasion.  Students first noticed what we called a hook at the beginning.  “Can you keep a secret?” was a phrase that hooked our attention to want to watch the rest of the commercial.  We noticed that the rest of the commercial showed us just how easy it is to use the fairy, so this was like giving the facts about what you are writing about.  Finally, we noticed the closing line “the magic is in your hands”.  This was a phrase that would stick with us long after we watched the commercial.  In fact, I told the students that my own daughter uttered this phrase the first time she flew her own Flutterbye fairy, so I knew it was a phrase that stuck in your head.

To continue our exploration of persuasion, we read Melanie Watt’s Have I Got a Book For You.  This book uses just about every persuasive technique that you can think of.  We noticed these techniques along the way and folded them in to our noticings from the fairy commercial.

After this initial exploration of persuasion, students worked some in their classrooms.  They selected the African American they would research and got a graphic organizer to located some basic facts about their person.  We referenced the fairy video and how important facts are when you are persuading.

IMG_1813Students spent time in class and in the library using several tools to research.  I did a quick mini-lesson on using PebbleGo, Galileo’s SIRS Discoverer, and Galileo’s Britannica.  All of these tools had text to speech features to support learners of all reading levels.  During this mini-lesson, I also stressed how research is never really “done”.   You just reach a point where you feel like you have enough to tell your story.  Adults circulated and conferenced with students on their progress as they researched.  I loved that not many said “I’m done”, but when they did, we gently reminded them that research is never really done.

IMG_1812Now students are pulling their facts together, creating hooks, and coming up with a great closing like “the magic is in your hands”.  Once they have these scripts written, we will move forward with the next part of this project which will involve recording commercials in Flipgrid and creating a Google form for voting on which commercials are the most persuasive.  I’m compiling all of this onto a Smore which will populate with information in the coming days.

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Chatterpix Book Talks with 2nd Grade

A few weeks ago, Okle Miller, a librarian near Tampa FL, shared a great iPad app with me that she had discovered on Richard Byrne’s site iPad Apps for School.   Chatterpix allows you to take a photograph with your iPad, draw a mouth on that photo, and record up to 30 seconds of dialogue for the photo.  The mouth moves in sync with your voice.  This app could have many implications for short classroom projects from historical figures to summarizing strategies to book talks and more.

I recently sent out an email to teachers with some ideas for technology projects that we might do together.  Each of the ideas was based in the subjects and standards that classrooms are working on with some suggestions of technology tools that might support those standards.  Many of the classrooms are currently working on opinion writing about books along with persuasive techniques.  I suggested Chatterpix as an option for students to quickly tell about a book, give an opinion, and try to persuade a reader in less that 30 seconds.

Second grade had already worked with me on writing book reviews for their blogs, so Caitlin Ramseyer, 2nd grade teacher, decided to incorporate Chatterpix into this mix.  Her students each chose a book, read the book, and used an index card to write a script that they could finish reading in less than 30 seconds.

Today, they came to the library so that Caitlin and I could work with them on using the iPads.  Students brought their index cards and books with them.  First, we watched this video.

Then, we looked at my Chatterpix example.

Next, students dispersed throughout the library to use the iPads.  Caitlin and I walked around and helped as needed, but the students were very capable of figuring things out and helping one another.

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One student didn’t have her book, so she pulled up the book in Destiny on the computer and took a picture of the screen.  Other students had very tiny people on their covers, so they put the iPad close to the cover in order to take a closeup picture of the character.  There was a lot of problem solving going on as students tried to figure out how to create the best video.  Many of them quickly figured out the different filters that they could use on their picture, but most chose not to explore the stickers (this time!).

chatterpix (6)Once they were finished, they saved the video to the camera roll on the iPad and brought it to me.  At first, I was trying to login to each iPad and upload to Youtube, but it was taking too long.  Instead, I plugged a cord into my laptop and imported the video straight into Youtube.  Caitlin helped them make sure their video was exported to the camera roll and I uploaded to Youtube.

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Finally, we gathered on the carpet to view our videos.  During this time, we paused a lot and students gave tips for future use of Chatterpix.  They suggested things like:

  • Since Chatterpix reverses words, try to take a picture of a character on the cover and avoid the text
  • Have your script written down
  • If you finish before 30 seconds, don’t forget to press stop
  • Rustling your paper makes the character’s mouth move, so be still
  • If you have trouble drawing the mouth with your finger, use a stylus
  • Hold the iPad in portrait view rather than landscape

We reminded them that they had developed some expertise with this app and that we might call on them sometime to help others.  Even this list of tips is a way for them to pass on their expertise.  Now that we worked out some logistics with how this type of lesson can flow, I think Chatterpix will be an app we will revisit many times.

Here are their book talks: