Using Objects from Nature to Inspire Creativity

As we near the end of the year, I’m collaborating with Natalie Hicks, one our gifted teachers, to create a project with the entire 3rd grade. In science, 3rd grade studies habitats and human impact on them. Our school is also a “Green School” which offers many opportunities throughout the year for students to explore how we care for our planet.

Each 3rd grade class is coming to the library for 2 one-hour sessions. The purpose is to use found objects from nature to create letters. Those letters are photographed so they can be used to spell various words and also inspire writing. Ms. Hicks and I both gathered as many objects as we could from outside the school and our own yards. Our original plan was for students to bring in objects to use for the project, but that piece didn’t happen this time.

Session 1:

As students were seated, they saw a clip from a Rose Bowl Parade video.

The purpose was to get them thinking about real-world examples of people using objects from nature to create. Another purpose was to think about the time and planning that went into the floats. Our students had a connection to the Rose Bowl since UGA played there this year.

Next, I segued into a book called Our World of Food: Discover Magical Lands Made of Things You Can Eat. Each page features a scene made with foods of a similar color and poetry that brings the scene to life. Again, we talked about how each object was intentionally placed into the scene.

Finally, I gave students their challenge. They could choose up to 5 objects from our nature tables to create one of their initials. I asked them to think about the shape of their letter and which objects might be the best choices to form that shape. We looked at some pictures of fonts as well as some letters found in nature for inspiration.

I covered our library tables with colorful tablecloths to use as backgrounds and building spaces.  Students sat in groups of 5 and waited for their turn to collect objects. It was wonderful to have Ms. Hicks, the classroom teacher, and Ms. Em (EIP teacher) as support during this project. Ms. Hicks had conversations with students about their selections, while the classroom teacher and I supported students with questions about how to build their letters.

When letters were made, students used iPads to take a photograph and then bring the iPad to me to upload the picture in Google Drive.

Then, students returned their nature objects for the next class to use and went to Ms. Em to select nature poetry to read while others finished. My hope was that reading lots of nature poems would serve as a mentor text for the work we will do in session 2.

I was very impressed by how efficient students were. They selected objects, experimented with combining them in different ways, and moved through all the areas of the lesson with the help of adults. Adults were all able to circulate and have conversations with students about their selections, creations, and reading. I wonder how things would have been different if we had time for students to actually collect the objects themselves.

Before session 2, I’ll print the pictures so students can use them in their writing and recording.  We can’t wait to see how all of this comes together.

Holiday Makerspace

ornament-makerspace-13

Our regular makerspace time is on break since UGA is out until spring semester.  However, our students are still eager to come. This week I hosted a special holiday makerspace at a different time than our typical makerspace time.  I created a Google doc and offered two 30-minute sessions for students in any grade to sign up to make holiday-inspired crafts using books weeded from our library collection.

Prior to the makerspace, I took several weeded books and ripped out pages.  Volunteers and people walking into the library thought I had gone crazy, but I loved finding a new use for books that would likely go to recycling or sit unused in a box.  Some pages I put in stacks and other pages I cut into strips.

ornament-makerspace-12

The two crafts offered were paper chains and snowflake ornaments. The paper chains were pretty self explanatory.  I just cut pages into strips so that students could create chains to use for Christmas trees or countdowns to whatever they hoped to countdown toward like Christmas, Hanukkah, a birthday, or something else.

ornament-makerspace-7

The snowflake ornaments took a bit more instruction.

  1.  Students took two pages from books that were close to the same size.
  2. They folded them like you would fold a paper fan.
  3. They tied the middle of the fan fold with string so that it would unfold.
  4. They glued the ends of the folded fan so that it could unfold into the shape of a snowflake half.
  5. They took the two fanned out halves and glued them together
  6. They added a string for hanging on a tree or other special place

ornament-makerspace-1

During the two sessions, I had a mix of 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th graders.  The all arrived at different times, so we found ourselves constantly restarting instructions.  The great thing was that in typical makerspace form, the students started to help one another.  I gave instructions as I could, but then the students passed on knowledge to one another.  The 1st graders needed the most support in tying string and folding paper, but other grades were very independent.

ornament-makerspace-5 ornament-makerspace-2

I was really glad that paper chains was a choice because it was easy for students to take on with little explanation.  It was surprising to see how many students had never made a paper chain.  The pages from books made some of the most beautiful chains I’ve seen.  The ones I’ve made have always been from solid construction paper, and these had a bit of fashion and artistic vibes.

Ornament making #ornaments #makerspace #librariesofinstagram

A post shared by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

Our time was of course noisy, messy, and fun.  We could have done this project for much longer than 30 minutes.  If we hadn’t run out of time, we could have started exploring variations of the designs. Some students naturally started doing this but they just ran out of time.  We also could have individualized the chains and ornaments even more with craft scissors, possibly glitter (if we were that adventurous, or combined some other materials from our maker cart.

ornament-makerspace-3

I’m going to hold onto this idea and see where it takes us in the second half of the year or even next school year.

 

Building Home Libraries: A Community Collaboration

4reading

One of the goals of the Barrow Elementary Media Center is to support the reading habits and curiosities of students, teachers, and families.  During the school year, our library is a huge source of reading, but I often wonder what I can do to continue to support reading during the summer months when students are at home.  What do their home libraries look like? What can we do as a school to support the idea of building a home library?

Many schools in Clarke County are supported by an incredible program called Books for Keeps where every student in the school receives 12 books for summer reading. Our school will eventually be served by this organization, but at the moment, we are not. Since we can’t really raise enough money to buy books for every child in the school, I decided to start with 2 communities of students in our school.

This year, I am working with our community, writing grants, and raising funds to support families in building home libraries in their communities. The Junior League of Athens is purchasing 6 books for each student from the Bethel Homes community who attends our school.   These books are for the students to keep and share with their family. There will be a family day of learning about home libraries, creating a plan for a home library, and adding these 6 books to the home library.  We hope by taking this step, we are supporting a culture in each home of having a dedicated place to keep books that are purchased, borrowed, or donated.

Through First Book UGA, we have a $750 grant to replicate the Junior League’s program in the Parkview community. This will provide approximately 3 books per student through First Book.  In order to replicate the same program we are offering at Bethel, we needed to raise some additional funds.  After getting approval from our superintendent, I created a GoFundMe campaign to raise an additional $1,000. I began sharing the campaign through many avenues of social media as well as personal emails. Camilla Bracewell, a Barrow grandparent and huge library supporter, also shared the project through her own networks. In just over 24 hours, we raised the funds needed.

I’m notorious for jumping into a project before I really know exactly what it’s going to look like, but I always leap in with the faith of expecting the miraculous and knowing that things will work out. Now that the funds are in place, some logistics must be worked out.

Logistic 1:  If students are going to create home libraries, what will I actually use for the home library container?

I didn’t want to assume that every student had a home library at home or that they knew that a home library could be any place you keep books, so I wanted them to have a container to take home with their books. I started pricing containers at Walmart and Target and seeing what Dollar Tree had. Along the way, I posted Instagram pictures of my journey and invited people to chime in with suggestions.

People chimed in with ideas:

Then, my wife suggested that I contact Suki Janssen with the Athens Clarke County Recycling Division, so I did.  She invited me to come and check out the warehouse where the Teacher Reuse Store items are kept. This CHARM facility houses items that are difficult to recycle.  I met with Chris Griffin and he let me browse the building and see what I could find.

bins at recycling

Miraculously, I found  3 different stacks of trays in varying shapes, sizes, and conditions and was fortunate enough to take them all home with me.

Logistic #2: Getting all of these trays ready to become home libraries.

I took all of the trays home and started cleaning a few of them and brainstorming exactly what to do to the trays to decorate them.

Again, I reached out to the community for ideas. Gretchen Thomas, my collaborative partner from UGA, suggested lots and lots of spray paint.

I went out and bought some cans to do a paint test.

It was a time consuming process to clean and paint the trays and I quickly realized I couldn’t do it alone.

Logistic #3: Who can clean and paint all of these trays?

I brought all of the trays to school.

I called upon my wonderful volunteer coordinator Courtney Tobin as well as Gretchen Thomas to send out emails and ask for volunteers. Once again, the community didn’t disappoint. Camilla Bracewell came in along with Margaret Christ and her librarian mom came in to clean trays.

I also have volunteers scheduled to come in and start spray painting the trays outside.

Logistic #4: How will I order the right books for students?

Since we have a First Book account and grant, I can order books directly from First Book for a great price. I really wanted to go back to my student book budget model and give each student a certain amount of money to spend in the First Book marketplace.

However, I don’t think I have enough time to pull that off.  Instead, I created a short reading interest survey so that I can do interviews with each student and find out some of their interests in order to get the books they really want to read. Again, this isn’t something I can do alone since there’s 75 kids in this project, so volunteers are helping me interview students with printed copies of the survey.

Logistic #5: How will I get the order done?

As we interview students, I’m searching the First Book Marketplace for books that match what students are asking for. I’m adding these to a wish list that I can pull from when it’s time to order.  I’ve blocked off times on the library calendar next week to work on the actual order.  I plan to take each student survey sheet and personally search for books to meet the needs of the student request and age.  Then, I’ll use the donated funds and grant to pay the bill.

Logistic #6: How will students take ownership of the libraries?

Rather than just hand over the books and trays to students, I want them to have some investment in the project. In two weeks, we are going to hold some decorating sessions where students can come and decorate their libraries with personal touches. During that time, we’ll talk about what it means to have a home library as well as talk about sharing books between home libraries. Since these students are in the same community, there is an opportunity for students to be able to exchange books with one another if they want to.

I know that I have many more logistics to work out in this project, but it is amazing to look at where this seed of an idea has grown into a blossoming project.  I can’t wait to see where the project takes us, how it impacts students, and what we all learn about one another along the way. Having a community that pulls together around a common project makes such a difference.

 

 

 

What Fairy Gardens Taught Me About Makerspaces, Teaching, and Learning

Entertaining a 5 year old and 3 year old during the summer is a big job.  I love being a parent, and it has made me grow so much as an educator.  Summertime brings many days of opportunities for adventures.  We get out of the house every single day and go somewhere whether it’s the botanical gardens, the local UGA campus, the local zoo,a movie, or the pool.  In between all of the fighting that happens between a brother and sister, there is a lot of curiosity about the world, and I love watching this unfold during the summer.

Recently, Athens held its big summer music festival, Athfest.  A part of this festival is an artist market, and my kids loved seeing what was in each tent.  Their attention was most drawn to a booth of fairy gardens.  These artists had created living pieces of art inside picture frames and jars.  They had made every single item in the gardens.  Building on my kids’ curiosity of this art, I decided we would make fairy gardens one day.  The only instructions we had were the memories of what we had seen at Athfest.  I intentionally did not look up examples on the computer because this was not a copying activity.  I wanted this to be full of investigation, dreaming, tinkering, and creating.  In fact, I really love not planning out every single detail of what we do because I can just see where the curiosity takes us.

We started by looking around our house for fairy homes.  We looked at several pickle and jelly jars as well as empty flower pots.  Alora and Anderson each chose their favorite.

Then, we had an outing to the local hobby and craft store to find trinkets for the fairies.  I didn’t have a specific budget in mind, but I like a good bargain, so I didn’t plan to spend very much.  We got a basket and each child got to put things into the basket as possibilities.  There’s not really a “fairy garden” section in the store so you have to really wander around with a fairy eye and think about what a fairy might like in his or her house.  We spent a good amount of time in the dollhouse section of the store.  Finally we made our way to the clearance section which was a hodge podge of all kinds of stuff.  We really had to dig here.  After the basket had a good amount of stuff, I got out my phone calculator and started looking through the basket.  We sorted piles of “definitely want”, “kind of want”, and “don’t want”.  As Alora and Anderson were making those decisions, we talked about price and also how many items were in each pack.  They knew they would be sharing so they were more interested in packs that had multiple items in them that could be split up.  After agreeing on an amount, we visited the register, chatted with the cashier about fairy gardens, and paid our bill.

Back home, we took to the outdoors with a basket.  We did a nature walk and collected free items for our gardens.  On our walk, we talked about what to touch and what not to touch.  We collected sticks, rocks, pine cones, moss, and leaves.  Finally, we prepped our fairy gardens.  Again, we didn’t specifically look up what we should put, but we talked a bit about the layers in the Earth and decided to make some layers in our gardens.  We filled the bottom with rocks.  We didn’t have any sand, but we noticed that there were some rocks along the sides of the house that had been broken down a lot by the water gushing out of the gutters.  We talked about the rock cycle and erosion while we shoveled up some of this sand and bits of rocks to make another layer.  Finally, we put a layer of dirt.

Back inside, we added some water to pack everything together a bit and then topped our containers off with some moss.  We spread out all of the items from our nature walk as well as all of our trinkets from the store.  They both started placing items into the gardens and making decisions about what the fairies would like the most.

When their construction was complete, we topped off each garden with a metal candle shade from our junk closet and placed all of the remaining items in a ziploc bag so that they could trade out things in the gardens when they wanted to.  The gardens went to each child’s room.  At bedtime, I went in Alora’s room and she was busy once again.  On her own, she had gotten a roll of tape and a ziploc bag.  The ziploc was on top of the metal shade and was securely taped on.  When I asked about it, she told me that if a fairy went inside she didn’t want it to get out.  Nevermind the gaping hole on the front of her flowerpot.  I loved how she was already extending what we had started.

It really wasn’t until that moment that I started reflecting on the whole experience: where we had been, where we could go, and what implications it had for my own teaching.

A Few Topics We Explored:

  • perspective through the eyes of a fairy
  • financial literacy through budgeting and decision making
  • speaking and listening
  • layers of the Earth
  • habitats
  • erosion and rock cycle
  • plant identification
  • problem solving
  • reusing
  • safety
  • art
  • creativity

A Few Potential Extensions:

  • reading fairy stories to learn more about fairy behaviors and needs
  • building upon Alora’s idea of a fairy trap.  We could use littlebits to make an alarm to alert us when a fairy is inside.
  • adding electronics and circuitry to our garden.  To give the appearance of a fairy or even to add some light for an existing fairy, we could use littlebits or leds with coin cell batteries.  This could lead to a whole exploration of circuits and electricity.
  • spending more time learning about terrariums and the types of plants that could live inside a jar.
  • storytelling based on our fairies and fairy gardens.

Some Takeaways

  • Some of the best learning experiences can happen when you don’t have every detail planned out. We had a goal, which was to build a fairy garden, but we didn’t lock ourselves into a series of steps.  While I love to plan, I think we often miss out on some incredible learning opportunities with students when we aren’t observing, pausing, listening, and reflecting.
  • Our library makerspaces are a place where these types of experiences can launch, but the space alone does not create the learning.  I add a few layers to our makerspace each year.  More stuff brings more possibilities.  However, I learned last year that you can’t just turn kids loose in the makerspace and expect that they are going to come out with an amazing project.  There’s a big inquiry piece that is amplified through conversations with an educator like the librarian.  Kids can come into the makerspace to dream, tinker, and create, but it is up to us to be observing, listening, reflecting, and inquiring to take the student learning to the next level.
  • When students are engaged through something that is of their own interests, multiple required standards can be woven in.  They may not happen on the timeline that comes from the district or state, but they can be woven in.  My struggle, just like many educators, is how to replicate this type of individual experience with a class of 25-30 students.  It can be done.  I believe it can, but it is very tricky.
  • I thought back to my experiences with Kelly Hocking, a kindergarten teacher at our school.  She can take just about any topic that most of the class is interested in and create a magical year long project that weaves in multiple standards, experiences, and projects.  The fairy garden could easily be that kind of project, but I’m not telling everyone to go out and make fairy gardens.  I think we need to listen to our students’ voices, find their interests, and somehow find connecting threads that allow us to create projects and experiences that honor those while still upholding the standards we are required to teach.

I know there is more here, but my brain is in summer mode and I’m still trying to entertain a 3 and 5 year old as I write.  I’m going to continue thinking on this.  If you have your own thoughts, ideas, extensions, takeaways, etc, please leave them in the comments.

America Recycles Day: Connecting with the World and Making a Difference

IMG_4370

This year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to collaborate globally.  In the past, I’ve participated in amazing events such as Dot Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, and World Read Aloud Day.  Each of those events has connected our students to classrooms and authors around the globe, and I’ve found so many collaborative colleagues through these events.  It’s these very events that have pushed me to wonder what more we can do with our students.  I’ve been pondering how we can have collaborations that allow our students to make a difference in the world and share their ideas, their questions, their problems, and their solutions.

When our spectrum teacher, Natalie Hicks, came to me with a flyer about America Recycles Day, I knew that this day had potential to spark some action projects with our students and students around the globe.  I made a Google doc, crafted a blog post, and started inviting anyone and everyone to connect for America Recycles Day.  It didn’t take long for some of the very people I’ve connected with for other events to start posting their own schedules in the doc and making connections.  I want to thank Shawna Ford, Jenny Lussier, Cathy Potter, Donna MacDonald, Misti Sikes, Ly Phan, Kathy Schmidt, and Craig Seasholes for taking a risk with me and trying something new.  These people put their schedules out there and started making connections.

This week, my own students started making connections for America Recycles Day.  Each Skype or Google Hangout offered a little something different.

Ms. Clarke and Ms. Haley’s 3rd grade class connected with Kathy Schmidt and her 3rd graders in Gwinnett County, GA.  We learned about how her students are collecting items from home to put in the library’s tinker lab rather than throw them away.

Ms. Wright’s 2nd grade class connected with Cally Flickinger in South Burlington, Vermont.  We read the book Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonah Winter.  The story sparked a great conversation about how our trash can take over our world and how important it is to recycle or reuse instead of throw things away.

Ms. Ramseyer’s 2nd grade class connected with Donna MacDonald in South Burlington, Vermont.  Her students shared how they are using Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit to inspire a save the crayons campain.  Students are collecting crayons and sending them to be melted into new crayons.  Our students took time to offer some other ways that the crayons might be used such as making candles, melting crayons for artwork, fusing crayons together to make two-sided crayons, and investigating what crayons are made of so that they might discover even more things that crayons could make.

Ms. Li’s Kindergarten connected with Misti Sikes and her Kindergarten in Forsyth, Georgia.  They shared how they recycle at their school by separating white paper and color paper as well as other ways that recycling has to be prepared before it goes into the bin such as removing paper clips and staples.

Ms. Boyle’s Kindergarten connected with Holly Esterline & Katie LeFrancois’s grade 1 & 2 class in Bolton, Vermont.  We shared the book Compost Stew and heard about how their school is doing TerraCycling.  Even with our connection issues, we still learned a lot about something we don’t do much of at our school.

Ms. Tesler’s 4th grade students gathered a lunch bunch together to connect with Cathy Potter and her students in Falmouth, Maine.  The 1st graders at her school showed us a Google presentation with pictures of recycling and composting efforts in their school.  They have a whole process of how their scraps at lunch get put into a bucket to go to the composting bin.

IMG_4405

Finally, Ms. Spurgeon’s 3rd grade class connected with Karre Sloan’s 6th grade students in Nashville, Tennessee.  They shared the recycling program from their school and how their 3rd graders are in charge of recycling.  They also shared their ideas and tips for our own recycling problem at our school.

IMG_4410

In every connection, our students shared our own school problem.  We have recycling bins in every classroom, but we are finding that people are still throwing away recyclable things.  Even when we recycle, we have an additional problem.  People are parking in front of our recycling dumpster and the recycling truck can’t get to the recycling to empty it.  We posted these problems onto a Padlet.  We showed each connecting class the bins that we have in our classrooms and read the recycling instructions that can be found on the bag inside.  Sometimes our connecting classes gave us new ideas right on the spot or shared what their own school is doing that might support our problem.  Other classes added to our Padlet after we disconnected.  We also added to the Padlet.

Barrow America Recycles 2014

Our next step is to take this Padlet and share the ideas with our environmental committee which is chaired by Natalie Hicks.  We also have 2 enrichment clusters that we can share the Padlet with.  Our hope is that some of the ideas that came from so many perspectives will spark change within our school problem.  We want to connect back with some of the classes we met this week and share what we’ve done to improve our problem, and we want to see what they have done since our connection.

I loved that during our very last connection, students arrived in the library to put signs on our recycling bin that were sent by our recycling department.

 

Miraculous things came out of our connections:

  • We saw that we weren’t alone with our problem and that there were multiple things to test out to try to reach a solution.
  • We learned that recycling is very different from place to place.  We are so fortunate in Athens to have a state of the art recycling facility and single stream recycling.  Some communities have to put forth a lot of effort to recycle, and it is so easy for us.
  • We realized that there were so many things we could do with our “recycling” other than put it in the bin.  The concept of makerspaces is really causing a lot of us to think about turning trash into functional creations.
  • We saw that together we could come up with out-of-the-box ideas.  We often started with “put up posters about recycling”, but with the energy of collaboration, new ideas surface such as make smaller trash cans, create a recycling contest, write a catchy song about recycling to sing on morning announcements, and more.

My hope is that this week of connections really does spark change in our school and others.  At the very least, I think it made us more aware of what we are throwing away.  These types of connections have the potential to grow into large-scale collaborations around the globe.  The combination of powerful texts such as Here Comes the Garbage Barge and Eyes Wide Open along with the innovative ideas of students, teachers, and families fosters a healthy environment for long-lasting collaboration.  Our students are the future of our world, and when we allow them to unite with one another around authentic dilemmas in our world, we are equipping them with problem solving skills to keep our world a peaceful place.