18 December 2013

Postcard Project: Connecting 20 Schools in 15 States

A few weeks ago, I saw a tweet from @uwlalum about a postcard exchange program. After clicking through, I decided it would be a good project for us to do, so I signed us up. There ended up being a total of 20 schools in 15 states across the country. 

Third, fourth, and fifth grade students are participating in the project. We started with a design contest. All students in grades 3-5 were allowed to submit an entry and each class narrowed down their entries to their two favorites. Here's a link to all the finalists: http://stroudpostcards.blogspot.com

I sent out a form to our teachers and had each class K-5 vote for their favorite design. We ended up with one winner from 3rd grade, one from 4th grade, and one from 5th grade. Here are the winners:

3rd Grade - Shakayla 
4th Grade - Hannah
5th Grade - Brianna & Miracle
We'll print these out and use them as the postcards we send to our pen pals. The next step is to start writing our messages to include on the postcard; we'll do that in January. Each classroom drew school names out of a cup. We have ten classes participating in the project, so each classroom will exchange postcards with two schools. Every class was really excited about getting the Hawaiian school, but it was actually the very last class that finally pulled them out of the cup. 

Here's a map showing all the schools participating in our project:

16 December 2013

LEGO Mindstorms: First Impressions

Mrs. Franks and I met last week to prepare for the new STEM class that will start in January. A friend suggested calling the class Supertechs since our nickname is the Superstars. Not a bad idea. Part of that class will have students working with LEGO robotics. We have both Mindstorms and WeDo kits, but  we've only explored the Mindstorms at this point. We began by sorting our pieces and installing the software. 

It's nice to have everything so organized. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
The software looks a little intimidating at first. It seemed like there was a lot on the screen. But it does do a good job of walking you through some practice exercises step-by-step. There were two instances when we felt they left out an illustration in an instruction, but both times we figured out what we needed to do. 

The first two training exercises are pretty simple, having the robot make a sound and display an icon. The third exercise is where things become interesting. Whereas the first two exercises have three or four steps at the most, the third exercise has twenty-three steps! You end up with a really cool looking robot that moves forward and then turns to the right and moves a bit more. That's all the exercise requires, but we spent the rest of our time adding steps to the programming and having our robot try more maneuvers. 

The first build.
It took longer than I expected to create our robot. But in building it, I learned some valuable lessons that I can share with the students. One tip is to get all the pieces required in a step before you start assembling that part of the robot. This allows you to be certain you have all the necessary parts, nothing missing and nothing extra. Second, be sure you have the correct pieces. There are some very minor differences between the pieces and sometimes you won't realize you have the wrong piece until several steps later. 

And I also learned that I'm definitely going to be searching for more times to get students using the robots. I predict that students will want to come work on their projects whenever they can, probably even during recess. It's hard for kickball to compete with robotics.

13 December 2013

Using Educreations for Responses to a Book

This week, students in kindergarten and first grade have been using Educreations to respond to the Olive, the Other Reindeer. I actually had three books from which the students chose one: December by Eve Bunting, The Fright Before Christmas by James Howe, and Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh. All eight classes chose Olive, the Other Reindeer. It's a good book, but I was hoping to read the other two at least once. Didn't happen. I'm guessing most of the students have seen the movie, so their familiarity with it probably helped it win. There were students in each class that voted for both of the other two titles, but they never had the masses behind them. My efforts at selling the other two titles increased throughout the week, but despite pulling out my best salesperson skills, it never worked.

Before reading the story, I told the students they would be asked to talk about their favorite part of the book or their favorite character. They also needed to use parts of the book to explain why a character or part of the story appealed to them. They used Educreations to draw a character and/or scene from the story. After practicing what they planned to say, we hit the record button and tried to talk as close as possible to the iPad to not get drowned out by all the other noise. There were a series of five buttons the students had to hit after recording their voice, but they picked up on it so quickly! Some students even made more than one response. Their favorite part of the exercise was showing off their finished product. Students were not only excited to share their video, but they were also interested in hearing their peers' work too!

Students need to be 13 years old to sign into Educreations, but fortunately you don't have to login in order to use the app. You do need to login to share your videos though. I signed in as me to get the examples below. 

Here are a few examples of their work:

08 December 2013

A Class Without a Name

I'm really excited about a new class that will start in January. I've been debating what to call it, but so far nothing has seemed just right. I thought about calling it STEM class, but I'm not quite sold on that. Students will be building and programming LEGO robots and building and printing 3D models, so maybe some sort of construction themed name would be appropriate. Ideas?

There's no set curriculum yet, so a lot of what we will be doing is exploring. We'll be trying out lots of new software and using tools that are new to all of us, students and teachers alike. I'm fortunate enough to have our gifted teacher available to co-teach the class, so there will be plenty of one-on-one guidance available to students. We'll start with 8 fourth grade students and 8 fifth grade students. This semester will help us determine ways that all our students can use these resources. The goal, of course, is to have as many teachers and students as possible using the robots and the 3D printer, but we want to do it right. 

One part of the class will have students build and program LEGO robots. We'll have 3 LEGO WeDo kits, 3 LEGO Mindstorms Kits, and a really awesome LEGO table and storage unit to play and learn with. The other part of the class will be designing 3D models and printing them on our Makerbot Replicator2 3D printer. We'll start by exploring several different designing tools: 3dtin.com, Tinkercad.com, Sketchup, OpenSCAD, Wings3D, Scupltris, Autodesk 123D, and the open source Blender project. 

Have any suggestions for us as we start exploring?

07 December 2013

3D Printing: First Impressions

Our Makerbot Replicator2 3D printer arrived this week. Fortunately, I had a lot of open time on Friday to start playing with it. Our Assistant Principal is as excited about it as I am, so he and I spent a lot of time reading the manual, printing, exploring Thingiverse, and becoming evangelists for the awesome that is 3D printing. I've got a long way to go, but I definitely learned a lot yesterday.

We were like kids on Christmas morning as we opened the boxes yesterday. There's no real assembly required, just connecting a tube, attaching the plate, and loading the thread. We had it powered on within a minute of getting it out of the box. The user's manual is very reader friendly. It walked us through the steps of preparing your printer in just a few minutes.

There are five pre-loaded files you can print: a nut & bolt, a shark figurine, a set of four connected chain links, a comb, and a stretchy bracelet. Over the course of the day, we printed them all. My favorite is the chain links; what really amazes me about them is how the links didn't get stuck together as they printed.

We had two little mistakes to learn from early on. After printing our first file, the shark, we stopped for a few minutes. We came back and preheated the printer. I think we were maybe supposed to unload the thread in between. We noticed there was a problem when nothing came out of the extruder as the printer started trying to print. The fix was easy. We called customer support and had an operator within 30 seconds. He was very helpful and sent us an email with some links to help videos on YouTube. We had the blockage cleared in a matter of minutes. Then, it was back to printing! Our second mistake was in between making the bracelet and the comb. There was a little bit of thread still connected to the extruder as it started to print the comb. I should have wiped it off, but didn't get to it in time. By the time I noticed it, I tried to pull the string off, but it made a slight defect in one of the teeth of the comb. I will have to pay more attention to that next time.

Students are going to start using the printer in January. I can't wait to share what they create! I'd love to connect with other elementary schools that have a 3D printer, especially if it's a Makerbot Replicator2. You can tweet me at @stroudlibrary.

02 December 2013

Book Review: Big Plans by Bob Shea

After committing a long list of shenanigans, the main character in Bob Shea's Big Plans has some time on his hands. Instead of sulking, sleeping, or doing the work he was no doubt asked to complete while sitting in time out, the student spends his time coming up with some plans, some BIG plans. Students will love the silly plot, the awesome illustrations by Lane Smith, and the repetitive nature of the text. If they're like my students, they'll love jumping in with all the "...BIG plans I say!" parts.

This is a great book to introduce a lesson on observing what surrounds us in our everyday lives. After reading about the main character's big plans, ask students to look at their surroundings and find inspiration for a character, a setting, or a problem. Challenge students to incorporate their observations into a story.

Another way to use this fun-to-read book about outlandish plans is to talk to students about their own plans for the week, for the year, or for anything really. Talk about setting goals. And like the character in the book, encourage students to aim for the moon!

No matter how you use it, you'll love reading this delightfully fun book about a young boy, a mynah bird, the president of the United States, and a mission to the moon. 

☆ (Money Back Guarantee)

29 November 2013

B.O.T.B. '14 - Twiddles and Trailers

One of my favorite times of the week is meeting with my Battle of the Books students. Right now, we're meeting twice a week, but students put in a lot of time outside of school. I think students would day that B.O.T.B. is a fun program, but that it's not easy. It requires a lot of reading, a good memory, a willingness to put in a lot of time and effort, and the ability to work together with teammates. 

For those wondering, Battle of the Books is a reading incentive program designed for students with a love of reading and a thirst for competition. Students form teams of five members and read a pre-selected set of ten chapter books. The program culminates in a "battle" in which teams answer questions about the books they've read. All questions begin with "In which book..." and students must respond with the title and the author of the book. In order to answer the questions, students must really know the books. Students sometimes read a particular book three or more times.

This year's group of students is the biggest I've had in my three years here at Stroud. And just like every year, I'm already impressed with their hard work. We have 18 fourth grade students and 21 fifth grade students participating this year. Our fourth grade competition ends at the school level, with four teams battling and one team left standing. The fifth grade competition is a bit different. After our school battle, the winning team will go on to battle the other 13 elementary schools in our district. I'm certain that we're going to send a team of very bright and very determined students to represent our school in April. 

When we meet on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, we spend a lot of time reading books and thinking about questions. But we also like to try new things. Last year, students blogged about their experiences during B.O.T.B.. Recently, students created riddles that we tweeted from our library Twitter account. 

And soon, students will start working on book trailers. This was something I was thinking about, but after attending Erin Broderick's (@librarybrods) session on book trailers at AASL13, I decided to get it started. Students will plan out a brief book trailer, then create a trailer using Animoto or iMovie. 

Here's a list of this year's books:

11 November 2013

Book Review: Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses by James & Kim Dean

When I saw the new Pete the Cat book at the book fair, I had to buy it. I loved Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes, and Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. Unfortunately, the art work is the only thing that ties this latest Pete the Cat adventure to the previous books. Eric Litwin, author of the first four Pete the Cat books, didn't write this one. Instead, James Dean, the artist/creator of Pete, and his wife authored this latest edition.

I've been a fan of James Dean for nearly twelve years now. My wife and I have several of his prints in our house. James even painted an original Pete the Cat with my wife's engagement ring at Pete's feet for my proposal to my wife; that's something I'll treasure forever. And Dean's art work in this latest Pete the Cat book is as great as ever, but the story itself is the book's weakness.

Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses begins with Pete being in a bad mood, which is a big departure from the previous Pete the Cat books. In the Litwin books, Pete was usually happy and always chill. But hey, everyone has bad days every now and then, right? Especially cats. The good news is, Pete sheds the blues and helps some friends feel better along the way.

But the big difference between this Pete the Cat book and the four written by Eric Litwin is the flow of the story. The Deans' story has a lot more words per page and doesn't really have the rhythm of the previous books. But the worst part is there's no song. There's a repetitive passage, but it's not a song. And it's just not the same. You can listen to the book at harpercollinschildrens.com/feature/petethecat and make up your own mind.

I hope Eric Litwin hasn't permanently parted ways with Pete. Lucky for me, there's one Litwin authored Pete book that I haven't yet read, Pete the Cat Saves Christmas. I hope it's not the last I get to enjoy.

My rating:  (It's still Pete after all.)

01 November 2013

Book Review: When a Monster is Born by Sean Taylor

When a monster is born, there are two possibilities. Either it's a faraway-in-the-forest monster OR it's an under-your-bed monster. If it's a faraway-in-the-forest monster, that's that. But if it's an under-your-bed monster... 
Well, you'll just have to read the book to find out what happens if it's an under-your-bed monster.

Sean Taylor's When a Monster is Born is a great book about the two kinds of monsters: those that live in the faraway forest and those that lurk under little kids' beds. Despite the content, this isn't a scary book. It's a humorous take on a scary subject that always elicits giggles from my students. There's also a guaranteed EEEEWWWW moment, but it's not what you might expect; the gross out moment involves the monster falling in love. Gross, right?

When a Monster is Born is a circular narrative that's sure to be a read-aloud favorite. If you read this book, there are two possibilities. Either you'll love it as much as I do OR you'll get gobbled up by one of those under-your-bed monsters.

My rating: ☆ (Money Back Guarantee)

31 October 2013

Monsters Invade the Library

Monsters invaded our library this week! There were witches, ghosts, snakes, vampires, and other spooky creatures. Thankfully, these creepy characters were all digital. But thanks to an awesome iPad all called EyePaint Monsters, they looked real enough!

Last week, I started looking for an app we might incorporate into our stories for this week. I found two that were possibilities: Create-A-Monster and EyePaint Monsters. It was easy to dismiss Create-A-Monster right away. Yes, it's free, BUT with very limited capabilities. Most features are locked and clicking on a locked feature asks if you want to purchase it without even telling you how much it will cost. Plus, there were ads and the app just wasn't that exciting anyway. Fortunately, EyePaint Monsters was just the opposite: completely free with no locked features, no ads, and really cool.

EyePaint Monsters allows you to color in a monster coloring sheet using your camera to capture colors, shapes, and textures. It was easy to demonstrate how to use the app and students caught on quickly. The user simply clicks on the area she wants to color, then aims the camera to "color in" that portion of the picture. When students were unable to find the color or pattern they needed by looking around the library, they simply created it using crayons and blank paper. One student figured out that if you put your finger over the camera, it makes a brilliant red color.

I challenged students to connect their illustration to our book. Some used colors inspired by the book, others tried to recreate textures seen on some of the monsters in our stories. I chose five books to read this week. Kindergarten read When a Monster is Born by Sean Taylor, first grade chose between No Such Thing by Jackie French Koller and Jitterbug Jam by Barbara Jean Hicks, and second grade had The Monster Who Ate My Peas by Danny Schnitzlein and I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll as options.

The students were so excited to use the iPads in the library this week. And I was so impressed with their ability to quickly learn how to use the app, their creativity, and their responsibility in taking care of our iPads (which currently don't have cases). Can't wait to use them again soon!

Take a look at some of their creations:

06 September 2013

Book Review: The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice Harrington

One of my favorite books to read aloud is Janice Harrington's The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County. It's the story of a little girl who really enjoys... you guessed it, chasing chickens. And as the title implies, she's pretty good at it. But there's this one hen, Ms. Hen she's called, that the title character has a particular hankering for. 

While it's not made entirely clear in the book, it seems to be set somewhere in the southeastern United States, at Big Mama's house. The dialogue and inner thoughts of the characters are so well-written, it'd be difficult to not read this one with emotion. I look at this book as a lot of kids' idea of a great summer. The title character explains at the very beginning that she always does three things when she wakes up: she brushes her teeth "whiter than a biscuit," she tells some stories to her Big Mama, she eats her breakfast, and then... Can you guess what she does next? 

I've read this book to several grade levels and it's always been a hit, with small kids and big kids alike. This week, I read it to my second graders for a lesson about the 5 Ws. Each time I read this book, I find a new way to use it. On this go around, I realized that it'd be a great book to use in teaching similes and metaphors. So, fourth graders, you'll soon get to know the Chicken-Chasing Queen, too.

If you get a chance to read The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County, I think you'll be come a fan too. 

My rating: ☆ (Money Back Guarantee)

05 September 2013

Picture Books: To Dewey or Not to Dewey, That is the Question

Our library is nearly Dewey-free. Our chapter books are in sections based on genre and our nonfiction section has been reorganized. But what to do with picture books? I've been thinking about that question for quite a while now (years actually). 

One alternative to having our picture books arranged by the author's last name is to put them in sections based on genre, like we did with our chapter books. But I'm just not sure it'd be that simple. Are there other alternatives I'm just not thinking about? What do YOU think? 

I've been referring to our new system of classification as "The Bookstore Model," and if you think about bookstores, their picture books are arranged by the author's last name too. Is there a better way? Dividing picture books up into genre based categories may be the answer, but perhaps the genres are just different. Instead of having funny, historical fiction, mystery, scifi/fantasy, scary, and adventure like we do for our chapter books, maybe picture books would have genres like superhero, spooky, funny, and.... What else am I missing?

29 August 2013

Nonfiction, Reorganized

I got this tweet in response to my first blog post about our transition away from the Dewey Decimal System.

tweet from @librariancheryl

First, I just want to say that I love Twitter. I first started using it just for fun, but it's become a great PLN! I love connecting with other librarians to talk about all things library. Plus, I've seen so many good ideas I could borrow for my library! Can't recommend joining the Twitterverse enough. If you're not tweeting yet, you don't know what you're missing!

Here's a list, in order, of the shelves in our nonfiction section:
  • General Interest
  • Religion & Mythology 
  • Sports and Recreation   
  • Fun & Games
  • Arts & Crafts 
  • Food & Cooking
  • Holidays & Celebrations 
  • Family/Community
  • Buildings
  • Grammar
  • Foreign Language
  • Transportation 
  • People in Uniforms
  • U.S. Gov't
  • Economics
  • Travel
  • Georgia
  • African American Interest
  • History
  • Math
  • Space
  • General Nature
  • Weather
  • Seasons
  • Land Habitats
  • Farming
  • Conservation
  • Mountains, Caves, & Rocks   
  • Dinosaurs
  • Water Habitats   
  • Water Science   
  • Plants
  • Health
  • Science Experiments  
  • Inventions         
  • Simple Tools
  • Forces
  • Energy
  • Matter
  • Measurements
  • General Animals
  • Pets 
  • Insects
  • Fish & Other Sea Creatures
  • Birds
  • Reptiles & Amphibians
  • Mammals
As you can see in the pictures below, some shelves were split in half since there weren't enough books to fill the whole shelf.

The two pictures below show a closer look at our nonfiction shelves. I tried to leave an area for a front facing book on each shelf. Sometimes it was impossible, but most had room.

In the photo below, you can see the genre stickers we added to the books. I think I'll probably put a sticker on the shelf as well, to make it as easy as possible for volunteers to help me re-shelf books. I also left the Dewey stickers on the book, so if we ever decide to reverse course, it won't be a big pain in the neck.

 I also created some special sections away from our nonfiction area: Poetry, Folktales & Fairy Tales, Graphic Novels, and Español. For the Folktales & Fairy Tales section (aka 398s), I took the majority of these books out and put them in our picture book section. That was something I thought long and hard about and I'm still not 100% sure I like the decision. The remaining Folk Tales and Fairy Tales are primarily collections of multiple stories. 

27 August 2013

Goodbye, Dewey Decimal System

I first heard about libraries moving away from the Dewey Decimal System in 2008, probably through Twitter. Five years later, I've just finished our transition away from Dewey. It was a lot of work, but I'm convinced that my library is now a more kid-friendly place in which all patrons are better able to find what they're looking for.

If moving away from Dewey is something you're considering, I'd suggest doing it in chunks. It's a big job to tackle and you'll likely need a good bit of help along the way. If you're able to use volunteers for some of the work, it'll be a lot more manageable.

I started by splitting our chapter books into genre based sections. I was able to put lots of books in a genre section based on my familiarity with our collection. For others, I used Scholastic's Book Wizard and online reviews for help. The sections I created are: General Fiction, Adventure, Scary, Mystery, SciFi / Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Funny. You might find that a different grouping of genres is better for you, but that's what this is all about - what's right for your library. My students have really enjoyed being able to browse their favorite genres and it's helped me become more familiar with my collection. I had no idea I had so many historical fiction books before this change. And it became really obvious that I needed to make adding more "funny" and "scary" books a big priority.

The next change I made was pulling all the graphic novels and grouping them together. Most of our graphic novels were in 741.5, but we had several in the 600s about health, and there were others spread out throughout our nonfiction section. This new graphic novel section quickly became one of the most popular sections in our library. 

The last job we tackled in the first year was adding stickers to the spines of our books, lots and lots of stickers. We added genre stickers to the chapter books first. Then, we added alphabet stickers to all of our picture books. This allowed for quick and easy shelving in the picture book area. Our picture books are never in perfect ABC order. If it's in the right section of letters, that's close enough for us. We added alphabet stickers to our biography collection, which operated the same way as our picture books. These sections aren't overwhelmingly big, so finding a book is still easy. Adding genre stickers to our sports books and our graphic novels wrapped up the 2012-2013 year.

shelves with signs
This summer, I started working on our nonfiction collection. It was a BIG job. Too big, really. But I did it... well, I'm in the process of doing it. We're so close! I've moved several things around within our nonfiction section and created a few special interest sections. But the biggest improvement is our signage. Each shelf is marked by a big, colorful sign. All I'm waiting on now is genre stickers. There will still be quite a few sections without stickers, but I'll tackle that after Phase 1 of Operation Stickermania is complete. Phase 1 consists of the following stickers: Marine Life, Animals (Alligator), Foreign Language, Travel, Cars, Animals, Art, Music, Science, African American, Health, Cooking, Pets, Holiday, Animals (Lion), Historical, Technology, and Finance. I ordered more than one Animals label so that I could label subcategories (Alligator for Reptiles/Amphibians, Lion for Mammals, etc.). 

Stay tuned for more!

20 April 2013

New Signs for Nonfiction

I've started working on signs for our nonfiction section. I'm planning to have the sections color coded with large, easy to read signs.