Students and Vendors: Meeting with Gumdrop Books

gumdrop  (12)

Our student book budget team is still hard at work compiling consideration lists to match their goals.  Today, they met as grade levels with Gret Hechenbleikner from Gumdrop Books.  This year, we are using 3 vendors for our purchasing.  Students already met with Jim Boon from Capstone Press, and they will meet with Will Walton from Avid Bookshop later this week.

Our process with Gumdrop was slightly different than Capstone since Gumdrop doesn’t have a scan to cart feature or a catalog.  Instead, Gret brings a selection of books for students to look at.  Inside each book, she has list of the other books that are found in that same series.  Students can get a taste for what the book looks and feels like and consider whether they might like other books in that same series.  Gret brought multiple books that matched the goals that students had set based on our survey data.  I sent these goals to her a couple of weeks in advance.

Gret did a quick intro of what she had brought and told students about the lists inside each book.  She setup her computer and printer at a table and students started looking at all of the books.  She and I both walked around and talked with students about what they were looking at and asked them to consider whether or not students at our school would enjoy the book they were looking at.  When students found a book or set of books they wanted to add to our consideration list, they took it to Gret at her computer.  She was able to pull up the complete series on her computer, check to see if we already had the book in our collection, and add it or a set of books to our consideration list.  When books came up that we already had, Gret and I asked them to think about whether we might need an additional copy.  Most of the time students said no, but they did decide to add another Frozen drawing book to our list.

Every 30 minutes a new group of students came to meet with Gret.  We even had a few random students who dropped by the library to check out books who offered their own feedback.  When all students were done, Gret printed a master list for us to talk about when we meet our budget.  She will also email me a PDF of the list that I can manipulate.

I always love this process of meeting with vendors because I put all of my trust in the students.  Even when a vendor may ask me about things I want to add to the collection, I remind them that this is completely up to the students.  I’ll do my purchasing with other money and other lists.

Students have quite a job to do next week.  We currently have 2 different lists which total more than $3,000 each and we have one more vendor to meet with.  Our $5,000 budget, which is a grant through the James Patterson Partnership, will definitely not be enough to purchase all that they want, so some tough decisions will have to be made.  This is all an important part of the process.


Continuing Our Battle of the Books with Even More Student Voices


Each year we have a program called Battle of the Books in 3rd-5th grade.  This is a reading competition where teams of 5 students read a list of 10 books.  They work together to answer questions about the books in several rounds of competition in order to be crowned the Battle of the Books Champion.  Each year there are students who don’t participate in battle of the books for many reasons.  Sometimes they are unsure if they want to do it and by the time they decide it’s too late.  Sometimes they have too many other things going on that they can’t fit it in.  Whatever the reason, there are students who are left out. This year, one of our teachers, Ms. Mills, recognized that in 3rd grade and wanted to give these students a 2nd chance to participate.



Since we are near the end of the year, reading the long chapter books that are on the regular list weren’t reasonable to consider, so she pulled several books that students could realistically finish, understand, and compete with.  Students read these books in small groups as well as during state testing when they finished their test.

Deciding to choose new books  meant that there weren’t questions written for these books, so she knew she would have to come up with every question asked.  I love what she decided to do.  She took the books to a 5th grade class and asked them if they would read the books and come up with questions to ask the 3rd graders.  The 5th grade students worked with their teacher to craft questions and they put their names on each question written.  During the competition, Ms. Mills or Ms. Garrett would say who a question was written by.


We decided to broadcast the competition through Google Hangouts on Air so that all 3rd grade classes could watch and support their friends.  I setup the hangout and emailed the link to all of the teachers, and of course, we now have an archive of our competition for anyone else who wants to watch.  Students helped pull the questions from a basket of questions and the teachers asked them. Each team received 8 questions and the teachers kept track of which team got the most questions correct.  It was a tight competition because the students knew the books so well.


I take no credit for any of this competition, but I just had to highlight what these teachers and students did.  Bravo to Ms. Mills and Ms. Garrett for giving even more of our students a voice in this fun competition during the busy end-of-the-year rush.  They all did an awesome job, represented our school well, and showed that they knew their books well!

Real-Life Angry Birds: A 3rd Grade Action Research Project

Our school has a problem that I’m sure many of you have seen or have experience with.  We have angry birds.  Not the ones that live on an iPhone, iPad, or other device.  These are ones that take a crash dive into the windows of the school and either knock themselves out or something a little more grimm.  Our students, of course, notice this every time they pass by a window.

Mrs. Shealey’s 3rd grade students have decided to do something about this, so they have launched into an action research project which ties to many of their curriculum areas including habitats, research, information writing, data collection & interpretation, and more.  It would be easy for a small group of adults to sit down and figure this out, but it is much more meaningful when the students are involved.  It is also our hope that the process of this project will carry over into the lives of students outside of school to notice problems, investigate, and take action.

Mrs. Shealey is doing a tremendous amount of work for this project within her classroom, but the library has been one small piece of this larger initiative.  Mrs. Shealey, Ms. Hicks (spectrum teachers), and I met to brainstorm and map out a timeline.

Our webcam pathfinder

Our webcam pathfinder

I wanted to help the students with observational skills.  When I stayed on Skidaway Island for 2 weeks a few years ago, I practiced careful observation in a field journal.  We decided to have one lesson in the library that explored careful observation.  I shared my journal including the sketches, quick notes, and deep reflection that I did on various pages.  I talked about the importance of being still, staying focused, noticing the small things, and observation stamina.  Then, students moved to computers where they used multiple live and recorded webcams to practice observing.  While students observed, the three of us made note of what they were doing well, what needed to be worked on, and what we might need to focus on as we did our actual observations of the birds at Barrow.  I think this practice session was really helpful to the process.

Using webcams to practice observation

Using webcams to practice observation

In class, students began making bird feeders that they plan to put outside the windows that birds are crashing into.

Mrs. Shealey also split the class into 4 small observation groups that both me and Ms. Hicks took to observe at the windows in the hallway leading down to the media center.

Here’s a quick look at what we saw:

I was amazed by the noticings the kids made after 30 minutes of careful observations and prompting from me and Ms. Hicks.  Some examples are:

  • Birds were more attracted to the tree that had berries and leaves on it outside the window than to the tree that was bare.
  • Some students had put laminated colorful pictures of flowers on the outside of the window and birds were flying straight into those pictures.
  • The window is different than other windows because the outside is exactly like a mirror.
  • Birds did not fly into the window when we were outside watching, but they did fly into the window when we were inside.
  • The tree with the berries seemed to have a smell that some students thought might attract birds.
  • Students noticed that birds were not flying into the windows of other hallways and wondered if it was the height of those windows that caused that.
  • Students began to wonder if bird feeders, statues, dark colored window decals, and perches might deter the birds from the window.

I think that these students crafted some wonderful, authentic questions that they can now research and create things to test out in this space.  As we observed, several teachers stopped and thanked the students for working on this project and asked them to share their findings with the whole school because some teachers are having the same problem at their classroom windows.

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Here are a few of the student reflections about what they saw:


5th Grade Little Free Library Project Part 2

Students designed on paper before using Google Sketchup

Students designed on paper before using Google Sketchup

Our 5th grade Little Free Library Project is picking up speed.  Thanks to the amazing collaboration of Rita Foretich and her student teacher, this project is really getting off the ground.  In art, students from both 5th grade classes have been split into teams of 4-5 students.  Each team has a lead designer, a task manager, a researcher, a writer, and a presenter.  Each job has specific responsibilities which Ms. Foretich and her student teacher constantly check in on.  They also give the task managers checklists to help them check in with each person on the team.

The student teacher is a Google Sketchup expert, so she has the lead designers using this tool to design a potential Little Free Library.  Students have made sketches on paper and moved to Google Sketchup to create a model of their library.  Presenters are putting together a presentation to inform our audience about each library design.  We may end up having the principal choose 2 designs or we may move forward with a student vote. LFL 4

The researchers and writers are working with me in the library to research the Little Free Library site for information about building the actual structure.  As we research the many tips on the site, we are considering other topics that we may need to research such as reusing materials and green building techniques.  We’re thinking of careers that we may need to research in order to identify experts to connect with or people to target for persuasive writing.  The writers are writing persuasive letters to send to potential donors, builders, or collaborators on this project.  They are also considering persuasive tweets they may need to craft for me to tweet out to target audiences for support.

5th graders used the Google Research tool in Google Docs to look for reading statistics

5th graders used the Google Research tool in Google Docs to look for reading statistics

I’m also working with the 5th grade classes on persuasive writing techniques.  We used the Read Write Think powerpoint of strategies and thought about what information we might include underneath each strategy.  I also showed them the research tool within Google Docs.  The students (and teachers) were excited that you could search for a topic such as “reading statistics” to find quotes about reading in the United States and automatically cite the source within your Google Doc.  I think this tool alone will spill over into many other projects now that the students know how to use it!  All 5th graders are writing letters to businesses, builders, parents, students, and other groups in order to ask for money, labor, supplies, books, and a location for our 2nd library.  The teachers are continuing this writing in the regular classroom as well as exploring the Little Free Library site for additional information.  One student was even able to locate a Little Free Library from his hometown in India!

Google Sketchup is proving to be a helpful tool in design

Google Sketchup is proving to be a helpful tool in design

I can’t wait to see where this project goes because it is certainly exploring many of the standards that our 5th graders work on in a variety of areas.









A team checks in with one another before starting individual work

A team checks in with one another before starting individual work


Student Co-teaching: A Participatory Experience!

Lucy shows off the page in Thanking the Moon where she helped me pronounce the word correctly based on her knowledge of Chinese.

Today something wonderful happened.  I was doing a lesson with Kindergarten comparing and contrasting the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival with Thanksgiving.  We used PebbleGo to read informational text about Thanksgiving and fact check with what we knew about Thanksgiving.  Then, we read Thanking the Moon by Grace Lin to learn about the Moon Festival.  At the end, we used an interactive Venn diagram from Read, Write, Think to compare and contrast.  During the story, I was first thrilled when a student was so excited that he recognized some of the names for sister, father, etc. in the story.  It made me remember the importance of students being able to see themselves and their cultures in the books on the library shelves and in the selections that are chosen for whole class lessons.

The second amazing thing that happened was when I came to a word in the story for older sister, Jei Jei.  I of course did not know the correct pronunciation, and I immediately knew I was wrong when the student who was so excited about the book did not recognize the word that I read.  Amazingly, Lucy, a student, was in the library working on a project and checking out a book.  She just happens to take a Chinese class after school, so she graciously shared the correct pronunciation and got us back on track.  She did this without any prompting.  I was so excited that she chose to participate and that she felt comfortable enough to interrupt my lesson in order to share that information.  These small moments really inform my bigger vision of the library as a site of participatory culture.  I hope that by sharing this, students will continue to find ways to get involved in any way they can in our library program.

Storybook Celebration 2012

Today was our annual Storybook Parade now renamed as “Storybook Celebration”.  The name change comes because we have expanded what this day means for our school.  Rather than just have an assembly and a parade dressed as storybook characters, we used the entire day to celebrate the joy of reading.

Students began the day with guest readers arriving in their room to read  story.  We’ve never done guest readers as a part of storybook celebration, and it was a challenge to find people.  Many of my regular guest readers were unavailable, and I found myself struggling for readers.  The power of digital communication and social networking came through for me though.  Many thanks to Jen McDowell, David Ragsdale, Ellen Sabatini, and several other unnamed parents who willingly recruited readers for our classrooms.  We ended up having 2 readers in almost every room.  Here are a few of the reactions & reflections from some of our high school readers this morning:

My experience with reading to the Kindergarten students at Barrow Elementary today was very fulfilling. The kids interacted and seem to respond to me asking them question that related to the book. And it made me day to be asked out by a kindergarten student today. Seeing their faces light up while reading to one my personal favorite child hood stories was absolutely amazing.
– Jackie Gordon
The reading was fun. I think the kids were excited. A lot of them already knew the story and wanted to help me read it. The teachers were very nice, too. 
-Jada Haynes
Reading to younger kids has always been an uplifting experience for me.  Reading to the kindergartners at Barrow Elementary was no exception.  The kids engaged in the story, were respectful, and were very cute.  I had a great time and really enjoyed sharing books with elementary school students.
-Henry Siebentritt
I had such a great time reading with the kindergardeners! I went to Barrow for seven years and it brought back so many good memories. The class I read to was the cutest ever and it seemed like they were interested in what we were reading to them. I want to go back next time there is an opportunity like this! 
-Chloe Alexander
I really enjoyed reading at Barrow this morning. I was in a 2nd grade class and I read A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade. It was a fun and cute story and the students seemed to enjoy it. One girl was especially enthusiastic about the pirates. A parent read a story about a square pumpkin before me and I enjoyed listening to him. This was a great experience overall. I loved getting to share such a fun book with kids and getting to be back in an elementary school again. 
– Katie Googe
My experience at Barrow Elementary was fantastic and very nostalgic. I had a lot of fun reading to the second graders and seeing my old teachers. I hope my other classmates enjoyed this experience as much as I did.
-Michelle Legette
There is a kind of magic that pervades the classrooms, offices, and halls of an elementary school, Barrow in particular. Upon entering the school, it is impossible not to be enveloped in a kind of warmth. When we went to read, I was immediately drawn to the bright decorations adorning the school, crafted by students, and the enthusiastic, costume-clad staff ready for the wonderful Storybook Parade. Although in a different building, this day, this atmosphere, this school is exactly the way I remember– it is as joyful as it ever was. Seeing children at this age is so special, because there is so much excitement for everything–to read a book, to dress up, to walk in the halls. The love for learning in this school is nearly tangible. I loved getting to come back and enjoy stories together, focusing on appreciating each next sentence and page. Thanks for setting this up! 
–Dory MacMillan
I had a fantastic time reading to the children.They were good listeners and I was happy to be there. It brought back good memories of my time at Barrow Elementary. 
-Patrick Humphrey
It was nice to go back to elementary school and read to kids. I enjoyed their costumes and appreciated their interest in the book I read. 
-Nida Javaid
Today, volunteers were given the opportunity to read at Barrow Elementary. I read a book by Lemony Snicket, 13 Words, That taught the kids words like “despondent.” Reading to the costumed kids was an enjoyable –experience, and more people should do it.
– Alanna Pierce

Following the readers, we enjoyed our huge outdoor space at our temporary school by going out to the fitness loop (track).  Grade levels sat together along the inside perimeter of the loop.  Parents and guests sat on the outside of the loop.  Each grade level stood and paraded around the fitness loop while the whole school cheered them on.  I served as the announcer and read blurbs from each grade level and some individual classes.

After the parade, 5th graders enjoyed some hot chocolate while the rest of the school went back inside to begin reading activities for the rest of the day.  Grade levels individually planned how they would spend the day.  All of the specials teachers and the library offered literature-related activities for classes to sign up in the place of their specials.  For a 30-minute block, teachers had common planning time while their class was at a “special”.

In the library, I read election-related books such as Grace for President, Duck for President, My Teacher for President, Babymouse for President, and Otto for President.  After reading some of these (and looking at a few others), students used our 10 iPads and a Google form to vote for which storybook character should be president.  Once voting was complete, we analyzed the results on the smart board and saw who was taking the lead throughout the day.  The students and I used my phone to tweet the live election results via our media center twitter account and facebook page.

It was a busy day with many kinds of reading taking place across the day.  Now, we’re ready for a 3-day weekend!

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GPEE Bus Tour Across Georgia


Winning t-shirt design from Smiley Face Graphics

Remember this post about 4th graders traveling to the state department of education to model 21st century learning?  A part of this lesson was students designing a new t-shirt for our school.  This year, the designs were voted on and every student and teacher in the school received their very own shirt.  Today, we all wore them for a special event, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education Bus Tour Across Georgia.  This trip brings together influential people from around the state and tours them through multiple Georgia schools across Georgia.  This year the theme was “Georgia’s Public Schools: Using Technology, Creating Pathways for Student Success.”  Our school was selected as a stop on the tour based on the innovative work that occurs in our library and classrooms.

Over 100 guests arrived at our school and were split into 14 groups.  These groups were escorted by student tour guides to 5 different stops in our school.  Bus riders saw incredible instruction and technology use in multiple classrooms.  They also stopped by our library where select students from K-5 were showcasing projects that had already been completed.

For example:

  • Kindergarten students showed their digital alphabet books and photo stories
  • 1st graders showed how to use PebbleGo.
  • 2nd graders showed their Regions of Georgia commercials on Youtube.
  • 3rd graders showed digital inquiry projects about rocks as well as a rock pathfinder
  • 4th graders showed how we used a gadget in a Google form to collect data about locations of various Native American locations
  • 5th graders showed digital inquiry projects using Animoto, Glogster, Prezi, Simplebooklet, and Power Point.

It was truly amazing to step back and watch students from every grade talk about what they had learned from their technology projects.  They taught many of our guests about tools that they had never heard of, and many of the educators within the group plan to go back to their school to begin using some of the Web 2.0 tools featured today.

I was once again reminded of the expertise that hides within our buildings and how we need to give students the space to play, explore, create, and share their knowledge both about content and technology.

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Game On: Gaming in the Media Center

Enrichment clusters have kicked off again and this year our clusters will meet 14 times across the entire school year.  During enrichment clusters, teachers offer topics on a variety of topics.  Students self-select their top choices, and then they are assigned to one of their choices.  The clusters are student-driven, so although the teacher offers the topics, the students are really the ones that make the decisions about what takes place.  During clusters, students are expected to make a product, service, or performance related to their topic and they also showcase their learning at a cluster fair at the conclusion of clusters.

This year, I am offering gaming in education as a cluster.  We now have an Xbox with Kinect in the media center thanks to profits from last year’s book fairs.  This gaming system will be available to all students in the school, but my cluster will specifically look at how this system and others can be used in education.  Our cluster is made up of 14 boys in grades 2-5.  We had an overwhelming response from boys, so it was decided to keep the cluster all male.  I definitely don’t want the girls to be left out, so we’ll be looking at ways to create opportunities for girls as well.

Today, the boys introduced themselves and shared their own experiences with gaming.  We named a few ground rules we should consider as we play video games in the library.  Many of these ground rules had to do with safety such as no body contact with others and keeping the gaming area clear.  We also talked about what it means to take turns and how we handle the adrenaline rushes we sometimes get when we play games.

Students each had a chance to play Xbox sports.  We chose a mini game of soccer to give every student a quick chance to play.  Then, we met back together to discuss how we handled our ground rules and what we need to remember for next time.

I have a couple of students who are already excited about the possibility of other kinds of gaming, specifically Minecraft. There are several schools who use Minecraft in education, and I think the boys that are interested in this are going to do some great things over the next 13 sessions.

At the next cluster session, we will Skype with the busy librarian, Matthew Winner, who already is well-established with gaming in his library.  He will share his expertise and students will have a chance to ask him questions.

I’ll post more as things develop.

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International Dot Day 2012 @barrowmc

September 15(ish) is International Dot Day.  We’ve been celebrating for the past week in the Barrow Media Center.  Numerous classes came to listen to The Dot by Peter Reynolds.  We talked about the importance of making your mark on the world and avoiding the words “I can’t”.  After our discussion, students moved to tables and made dots in 2 different ways.

Using Drawcast on the iPad, students made digital dots in a variety of ways.  They saved their images to the iPad photo gallery.  We took those dots and imported them into a collective dot folder and used Animoto to make a digital dot gallery.  We also made a QR code and displayed it outside the library to link to our Animoto video.

At the other tables, student had access to coffee filters, markers, crayons, and color pencils.  They decorated their coffee filters in creative ways.  All of the paper dots filled the windows of the media center to the point that you almost couldn’t see in!  Some students used a spray bottle of water to spray their filters so that the color ran together.  After many classes came, we realized that our sprayed dots had created even more dots in the drying area.  The final class, Ms. Olin’s class, wrote on the drying paper “Barrow School Made Their Mark” and we displayed this in the hallway as well.

We hope our creativity will inspire others to make their mark on the world!



Make It Happen @ Your Library: Orientation 2012-13

I am energized by the start of our orientations in the Barrow Media Center.  Today, all of 5th grade and a 1st grade class came for orientation.  This year we’ve embraced the theme “Make It Happen….@ Your Library!”  This theme has many meanings for our program.  The most obvious is that this year will be our first year without a media paraprofessional.  I’m calling on all members of our library (teachers, students, families, community) to come together to make our space work this year with less paid help.

“Make It Happen” also means that our space is going to be a space for creating.  This year, many collaborative lessons and projects will happen in our space and a main goal will be to facilitate students in creating their own projects.  Even though students will be creating within these lessons, I also want them to have choices and opportunities for creating on their own.  On the bulletin board, I’ve listed things such as design a bookmark, compose a library theme song, teach someone your technology expertise, film a book trailer, and more.  In orientation, I’m openly inviting students to think about which of these ideas speaks to them and what other ideas they might have in their own minds and to make those happen somehow this year.

Our orientation itself is much more interactive this year.  Rather than talk about all of the rules and expectations, we’ve been reading Ish by Peter Reynolds and Not a Box by Antoinette Portis.  I’ve asked students to think about what they can take away from these stories to help us this year.  They have named things such as be creative, dream, pretend, encourage, imagine, and more.  I can’t think of better words to fill our library space this year!

After connecting those thoughts to the theme of “Make It Happen”, we do go over a few details about the library that students need to know.  Then in grades 2-5, students participate in a scavenger hunt to locate several parts of the library as well as do many of the things they will do this year on their own like looking up a book in Destiny.  I also have students name themselves as experts or consultants in a variety of areas:

  • Who knows how to use Destiny Quest?
  • Who knows how to check themselves out?
  • Who knows how to use a shelf marker?
  • Who knows how to put a book on hold?
  • Who can locate a book on the shelf after finding it in Destiny?

As students identify themselves as experts, students who are unsure about these questions can write down their names and call on them for help when checkout time comes.  Since one of my goals is to build the participatory culture of our library, I’m immediately calling on the students to start participating rather than looking to me for all of the help.

In the lower grades, we do the scavenger hunt together, but the basic idea is still the same:  setup the theme of the year and let students start to take ownership.

This was such a freeing process.  I felt like I could give more quality attention to some of the students while I knew that other students were taking care of other students with questions in the class.  I can’t wait to see how this different orientation style supports what we will do this year.  I feel like we’re off to a great start.

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