Earth Day Environmental Centers


Our school is a green school, so we do a lot as a whole school to learn about caring for our Earth throughout the year. Our third grade has some specific science standards that explore pollution and effects of humans on the environment. They are beginning a unit on this during science, and the opportunity aligned to allow us to explore the topic during the week of Earth Day. Each class came to the library for a 45-minute exploration of 5 centers. Students began on the carpet for a quick intro to the 5 centers. Students did not have to make it to all of the centers. Instead, I told them to prioritize which ones interested them the most and do their best to make it to those and save the others in case centers were full or they had extra time.

The classroom teacher, gifted teacher, and I all walked around and talked with individual students as they worked to see what they were discovering and assisting them if they had a question. Here’s a look at the 5 centers they explored:


Center 1: Books

I pulled multiple books from our collection about the environment, energy, recycling, water conservation, and more. Students were encouraged to find a book that caught their eye and spend a few minutes reading parts of that book or parts of several books.



Center 2: Flipgrid

I created a list of authentic environmental problems that exist in our school. These included things like printing to copiers and never picking up the copies, throwing away recyclables, and trash in our parking lot after a UGA football game. Students were encouraged to pick an issue from my list or come up with their own observation. Using Flipgrid, they recorded a brief video identifying the problem and naming possible solutions.


Center 3: Observation and Poetry


This center included multiple books by Joyce Sidman. She is a master of making observations in the natural world, researching those observations, and then turning them into poetry. Many of her books feature side-by-side poetry and the information that inspired the poem. Students were encouraged pick a book, find a poem, and see how the factual information that Sidman researched made its way into her poetry.

Blackout poetry in action #poetrymonth #blackoutpoetry #writing #3rdgrade #librariesofinstagram

A video posted by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on


Center 4: Environmental Blackout Poetry

This center was modeled after the blackout poetry of Austin Kleon. It is  kind of found poetry where you find words in magazines, newspaper, websites, or books to arrange into a poem and you blackout the rest of the words on the page. I copied multiple selections from books about the environment and students chose one of those pages to create a blackout poem. It’s always interesting to see how students boil the words down to the ones that stand out the most in the article or page. This year, I made sure that we did our blackout poetry on top of a table cover so that they black crayon and marker didn’t make its way onto our tables.

Earth day blackout poetry #studentwork #studentvoice #earthday #librariesofinstagram #centers #poetrymonth

A photo posted by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on


Center 5: Environmental Online Resources

Using Symbaloo, I pulled together ebooks, websites, interactive sites, and videos about the environment. Students spent time on a few of the sites before moving on to other centers.

Now the students will use the topics and ideas that they discovered in this exploration as they continue to study these topics back in the classroom.


Celebrating Thanksgiving Traditions with Balloons Over Broadway and Looking Ahead

Second grade signed up for a rotation through the library as part of their Thanksgiving feast celebration on the day before our holiday break.  Their request was to read the book  Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet.  If you’ve never read this book, it is amazing!  The illustrations are filled with details that you can search through for hours and it is packed full of information while being very readable as a read aloud.  While I love biographies, sometimes it is hard to read a biography aloud because of the length.  Balloons Over Broadway is just right.

Before we read the book, we looked at information about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Watching this parade has always been a part of my Thanksgiving tradition.  I was very surprised to see how many students had never watched the parade or even heard of it.  I was reminded of the importance of the picture book and how it brings out conversations that might never have happened without the sharing of a story.  Some of our conversations included perseverance, immigration, failure, and growth mindset along with some other Thanksgiving traditions.

There are numerous resources you can use to share about the parade and the book:

After we read the story, we used on of the pages out of the activity kit to design our own balloons. kids resources BalloonsOverBroadway_ActivityKit.pdf

I loved watching what students came up with.  Once they finished, they had the option of sharing their balloon on a Flipgrid.

Students came up to the webcam on the projection board and I helped them click through the Flipgrid menus to take a picture and record.  Then, students came up to type their name.  I normally use the iPad app for Flipgrid, but this was a fast way of doing a lesson closing as students finished their coloring on their own time.



Click here to see and here about their balloon designs!

The book also made me think ahead.  Last year in 2nd grade, we did a great project with the force and motion standards in science where students investigated Rube Goldberg and made their own inventions.  Balloons Over Broadway was a perfect introduction to the idea of tinkering and using everyday objects and simple machines to take mundane tasks and make them interesting.  I want to revisit the opening pages of the book where Tony Sarg invents a way t feed the chickens when we do the simple machine project later this year.

I also thought about the Hour of Code and how that event brought about so many conversations about failure and perseverance.  This book would be a great example to share ahead of Hour of Code to think about a growth mindset and prep students for the failure that comes with coding and how you handle that failure as a learning experience.

Who knew that so many thoughts would come about from a simple request to read a story.





Exploring Chinese New Year with Kindergarten: Google Voice Search, Pebble Go, colAR Mix, and More

BeghKH6IAAAZUVXMrs. Li’s Kindergarten class has been exploring the Chinese New Year with me in the library.  During our exploration, we’ve tried out several resources for information.  First, we used Capstone’s PebbleGo database to do some pre-reading for background information.  We did this with little discussion about the holiday, but instead just focused on listening to the information to build some shared knowledge.

pebble go

Next, we thought of questions that we had about the Chinese New Year that were possibly not answered by PebbleGo.  We asked things like:

  • When is Chinese New Year this year?
  • When is the lantern festival?
  • Where is it celebrated?
  • How is it celebrated?

Before students came, I installed the Google Voice Hotword Search extension in Chrome.  This allowed us to control a Google search with our voice.  For Kindergarten students who aren’t fluent in typing, this lifted a big search barrier for them.  We took our list of questions and took turns saying:

  • “OK Google”
  • When is the Chinese New Year?

Google searched and spoke to us telling us that this year Chinese New Year begins on January 31st.  We continued this process to answer many of our questions.


Next, we used Grace Lin’s book Bringing in the New Year to continue our exploration.  Many facts that we had already discovered were confirmed in the text, but the book allowed us to learn some of the family structure in China and what different family member roles are.  Mrs. Li was able to help us with this part of the lesson.  Since I wasn’t sure how to pronounce some of the words, she pronounced them for us and also explained the meaning of each family member’s name.  We certainly could have used Google for this, but we had a conversation about choosing resources to answer our questions.  Since Mrs. Li was with us in the room and is an expert in Chinese culture, she was a faster option for us than taking the time to go to Google.  It’s never too early to begin surfacing the thinking process that we go through as learners when we are trying to find the answers to our questions.

During the 2nd lesson, we once again used the Google Voice Hotword Search to explore the Chinese Zodiac.  We learned that 2014 is the “Year of the Horse”.  Students were curious about their own birth years, so we used Google to look for the signs for each of their years too.  From here, we spent some time coloring a colAR mix coloring page for Chinese New Year.  Students used the iPad app to view their carousel creations.  The app uses augmented reality to bring coloring pages to life.  The carousel pops off the page and rotates to music with they year 2014 in front of the carousel.  Students were mesmerized by their coloring page brought to life.

We explored so many skills and tools in just 2 lessons.  I want to continue this transliterate thinking of how our students can experience content across multiple platforms.  In these 2 lessons, we examined print, databases, websites, search engines, crayons/markers/paper, and augmented reality.  I’m curious to ask students later what they remember about Chinese New Year and see what stands out in their minds from these 2 days.

Exploring Georgia Habitats with 3rd Grade

IMG_1351Each of our 3rd grade classes have booked time in the media center to research the habitats of Georgia.  Here’s what they need to know:

S3L1. Students will investigate the habitats of different organisms and the dependence of
organisms on their habitat.
a. Differentiate between habitats of Georgia (mountains, marsh/swamp, coast,
Piedmont, Atlantic Ocean) and the organisms that live there.
b. Identify features of green plants that allow them to live and thrive in different regions
of Georgia.
c. Identify features of animals that allow them to live and thrive in different regions of
d. Explain what will happen to an organism if the habitat is changed.

S3L2. Students will recognize the effects of pollution and humans on the environment.
a. Explain the effects of pollution (such as littering) to the habitats of plants and
b. Identify ways to protect the environment.
• Conservation of resources
• Recycling of materials

During their library time, I set the stage by doing a brief mini-lesson.  We looked at the standard and talked about the word “feature”.  We tied this to the word “adaptation” and looked up the definition online.

a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.

Then we looked at a National Geographic video on owls.  We didn’t watch the entire video, but we paused each time a new feature of the owl was mentioned:  its satellite head, its huge eyes, its large wings, etc.  We tied this back to the word “feature” an the word “adaptation” so that students would know the kinds of things they were looking for in their research.

Next, I posed the question:  Why does all of this matter to us?  why do we need to learn about animals, plants, and their habitats?  Before they answered, we watched a news clip that aired this morning.  It was a perfect fit to our topic because it showed a black bear roaming around near an elementary school’s dumpster in Hall County.  IMG_1346

After watching this clip, I posed the question again.  Students said things like:

  • If we know about plants and animals, then we’ll know how to take care of them.
  • If we know about habitats, then we’ll know how to not pollute them.
  • We’ll know how to keep animals alive and where they belong.
  • and more.

I was really glad that I watched the news this morning at the gym instead of rushing in to school because that clip really set the stage for our research.

For about 30 minutes, students used a graphic organizer to gather information about the habitats, plants, and animals of Georgia in a variety of ways.  They could freely float between 3 different areas in the library.

  • Books:  I used the State Standards Publishing series for regions, rivers, and habitats of Georgia.
  • Posters:  These posters featured different kinds of animals along with a map of where they were found in Georgia.  Students had to identify an animal, look at what region of Georgia it was found in, and then think about what habitat that would fall under on their graphic organizer.
  • Websites:  Students had access to a Sqworl site that had songs, informational sites, and games about the habitats and regions of Georgia. IMG_1352

As usual, it was interesting to see where students chose to go.  Some went directly to games.  Others went to posters.  Other chose books.  It really said a lot about what kinds of media our students need access to in order to match their needs as learners.  Some students stayed at the same station or site for the entire 30 minutes while others moved to several stations.  During this time, the teacher, student teacher, special education teacher, and I were able to walk around and facilitate learning.  We asked questions to nudge students thinking or spent time showing students how they might pay close attention to a game and gather facts while still maintaining momentum in their game.  As usual, it was very freeing and individualized.  This has come to be one of my favorite models for gathering information.  My regret is that we don’t have more day scheduled to find information.  Now, the students will use their 1 to 1 netbooks to continue to explore the Sqworl site on their own.

Georgia COMO 2013 Keynote

keynote 2Today I had the opportunity to be the keynote speaker at the Georgia Council of Media Organizations Conference in Macon, GA.  My hope was to open the conference by inviting conference members to give themselves permission to imagine and dream possibilities for their programs.  I hope that today’s keynote sparked some conversations that will carry people through the 2 days of the conference and beyond.  Putting together these slides and presentation allowed me to spend a lot of time reflecting on my library program and the many participatory opportunities for the members of our library.  Thank you to Diane Grffin, COMO chair, for the invitation to speak.  

Many thanks to CCSD librarians Shannon Thompson and Shawn Hinger who sat at the front table and cheered me on.  


5th Grade Cell-a-bration

Star lab, checkout, computer/iPads were all used simultaneously in our space

Star lab, checkout, computer/iPads were all used simultaneously in our space

Today our 5th graders participated in 5 centers throughout the school to learn about cells.  This was another example of transliteracy in action.  Across the centers students:

  • heard a guest speaker talk about the USDA and tracking outbreaks of food sickness
  • looked at projected images of cells underneath a microscope
  • entered the Starlab to actually sit inside a cell that was projected on the planetarium ceiling
  • used a Sqworl pathfinder and iPad apps to interact with cells in multiple ways from games to videos to ebooks to interactive tours of the cell

In the media center, we hosted 2 of the rotations.  Once again, I was excited to see that the design of the space supported multiple things going on at once.  The Starlab was inflated where our tables are usually located.  This massive planetarium did not block a single shelf from being accessible to students who were coming to checkout.  The tables were moved to the other projection area so that students could use iPads and computers for the pathfinder and app center.

I started the students in the floor to intro the apps and pathfinder.  They grabbed the device they needed and then found the best space that worked for their learning.  On the pathfinder, the students most enjoyed the Capstone Interactive ebooks, Vampires and Cells and The Basics of Cell Life.  

vampires and cells

They also enjoyed the University of Utah’s Inside a Cell, which allowed them to zoom into different parts of a cell and read additional information about that part.


Explorers and Native Americans: Perspective & Transliteracy with 4th grade

explorers & native americans (9)

Update:  This post is featured on Jane Yolen’s page for Encounter. 

Our 4th grade is studying Native Americans and Explorers.  When I met with the 4th grade team to plan, one of the main topics of our conversation was how we wanted our students to really think about perspective.  We didn’t want them to come away looking at the explorers as only a group of heroes, but instead to question what the costs were of their exploration.  We wanted them to think from the Native Americans’ perspective and consider how they felt about the explorers coming into their land.  We decided to approach this in a few ways.  The teachers planned regular social studies instruction in their classrooms.  They made Google presentations that were shared with the kids.  They also created graphic organizers for students to use to collect info.  Some students chose to have paper print outs of their organizers while others chose to fill out the organizer digitally.

Our guiding standards included:

SS4H1 The student will describe how early Native American cultures developed in
North America.
a. Locate where Native Americans settled with emphasis on the Arctic (Inuit),
Northwest (Kwakiutl), Plateau (Nez Perce), Southwest (Hopi), Plains (Pawnee),
and Southeast (Seminole).
b. Describe how Native Americans used their environment to obtain food, clothing,
and shelter.
SS4H2 The student will describe European exploration in North America.
a. Describe the reasons for, obstacles to, and accomplishments of the Spanish,
French, and English explorations of John Cabot, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Juan
Ponce de León, Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, and Jacques Cartier.
b. Describe examples of cooperation and conflict between Europeans and Native

In the media center, I pulled multiple folktales from each of the Native American tribes.  During 2 separate sessions, we looked at Google Earth to see where the tribes were located originally.  Then as we read the folktales, we considered how location impacted the food, shelter, and clothing of the tribes by citing evidence from the tales.

The teachers wanted students to have access to multiple kinds of resources for their research portion of the unit.  We talked about classes coming individually to the library, but we ultimately decided that it would be nice for students to all be together in one location with multiple resources.  We scheduled 3 hour-long sessions.  I pulled together folktales, books about explorers, books about Native Americans, a pathfinder about Native Americans, and a pathfinder about Explorers.

During session 1, we met as a whole group.  I showed students a video of Christopher Columbus from National Geographic.  After the video, I asked students to think about how they would describe Columbus.  After talking with partners, I put as many words into a Tagxedo as possible.

These words were how students described Christopher Columbus after watching a video about Columbus.

These words were how students described Christopher Columbus after watching a video about Columbus.

Then, we read the book Encounter by Jane Yolen, which is the Columbus story told from the Native American perspective.  After the story, I asked the students to once again describe Columbus.  Their words made a big shift.

These words are how students described Christopher Columbus after reading Encounter by Jane Yolen.

These words are how students described Christopher Columbus after reading Encounter by Jane Yolen.

I followed up by talking about perspective, and how so many stories in history are silenced until the perspective of that group of people is brought forward.  I cited authors such as Phillip Hoose and Tanya Lee Stone who have written multiple texts about stories from history that have been untold.  I encouraged students as they did their research for this project to strongly consider perspective.  I did not want to tell them what to believe, but I asked them to be critical of the information they read and form their own opinions of history.

During sessions 2 & 3, all classes came back to the media center.  On one projection board, I posted the Native American pathfinder.  On the other projection board, I posted the Explorers pathfinder.  In addition, I made QR codes for each pathfinder and pulled out our cart of iPads.  I separated the books into 3 separate areas:  folktales, Native Americans, and explorers.  All students brought their netbooks, but they had the option to use the iPad if it fit their learning needs better than the netbook.  After  a quick reminder about our focus and where things were located, students freely moved around the media center.  About 75 students simultaneously made choices about which resources to start with, where to work, whether to work with a partner or small group or alone, and what technology supported their needs the most.  All 3 classroom teachers, a teacher candidate (student teacher), a gifted teacher, and I walked around and checked in with students.  Sometimes we were troubleshooting technology or redirecting, but often we were able to have individual conversations with students about the information that students were collecting.  Teachers worked with all students regardless if they were in their class or not.

What amazed me the most were the decisions that students made about their learning.  I saw transliteracy in action.  As I walked around, I saw students with pencils, papers, iPads, netbooks, and books all spread out around them.  They were simultaneously moving from one device or tool to the next.  Some students sat at tables while others sat inside bookshelves.  Some students tucked away by themselves while others worked in a large group.  Some students worked with very few resources at a time such as 1 book while others had every possible resource in front of them at once.  After months of wondering about how our space would support the kinds of learning I hope to see in our library, I was finally able to truly see it today.  I saw every piece of furniture in use.  I saw students combine pieces of furniture to make themselves comfortable for learning.  An entire grade level descended upon the library and remained productive while groups of kids were still coming into the library to checkout books.explorers & native americans (15)

It was loud, energetic, productive, and fun.  It’s a model I hope to replicate with other groups and a model that I hope carries into our classrooms, which can now accommodate some of these sames types of opportunities.