Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Young Engineers throw punches in the Library

Last year as a new STEM school we embraced the Cardboard Challenge (click here to check out Caine's story). As we near our second year of involvement it is apparent how far we have come, both as a STEM school and students. This year as we discuss the challenge in the Library my kids are READY. It's as if they have waited all year to better last year's creations. I have heard about stability, engagement, ramps, and motion all week. From 7 year olds!

After asking teachers how we can frontload in the Library this year I had an interesting response: Please expose second graders to more arcade games. Kids love Caine and embrace his challenge but if they do not have that background knowledge regarding hands on arcade games there is only so far they can go.

Hello, Google. And forget searching "arcade", "classic arcade" "old fashioned arcade". Carnival Games were finally what I needed and we spent a fun 30 minutes discussing and critiquing games from Plinko and AirHockey to PinBall and SkeeBall.

Kinder and First read Iggy Peck, Architect and The Three Ninja Pigs. Out came the building blocks and cool cubes I have not seen before. I was proud of the bridge some of our girls created with the bracing they pointed out to me.


I read Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building with 4/5 and pulled out the Lego Robotix Challenge Kits. The history shared through the text was a complete discussion while/ after we read and the end pages had compelling pictures from the actual build time.

I poured through pages of Engineering Challenges and actually had the marshmallow box ready to go with 4/5 but after setting out the trays and pairing the kids I decided it was time for free build. When they picked up their base they had to tell me what structure they were building and was I ever blown away! Granted, I don't have much LEGO experience with kids but that aside I was impressed. Complete, TOTAL CONCENTRATION. Creative process in motion and the library was humming.


And that's when it happened (no pics, sorry, too shocked). A scuffle, some 5th grade cussing and LEGOS flying when it was time to head to Spanish. And so it turns out I need to pay a little more attention to the groups I create when Engineering. There is that reason GT kids are split among groups in collaboration and I found that when the LEGOS came out all kids are GT. With well developed ideas and execution. Just don't be that person who actually hears your Librarian call for clean up and start the clearing. Woe to that person. Actually, after that person shoves back and lights up the checkout line, woe to both 5th Graders who are back in the Library at recess time, minus the LEGOS.

I texted my husband after they left and told him we had WW3 revolving around LEGOS and I got a "Duh...." back.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Censorship 101: Banned Book Weeks for Elementary Libraries

 Banned Books Week for K-5 is a challenge for me. I am 100% behind the idea of celebrating and highlighting the fact that we can read whatever we want. Displaying the Banned Books from our shelves is a good way to intro the topic but I struggle to bring the idea alive for kids this age. Many of them lack the natural outrage that comes naturally to Middle Schoolers and some of the topics of Banned Books are touchy with K-5.

This year I am going the Censorship 101 route.What is Censorship? Is it lawful in America? Do we Censor one another? Our kids are so connected 24/7 and have no concept that there are places where someone would withhold text or the privilege of reading from anyone.

BrainPop has a video on Judy Blume that I will show them, the link is here: Judy Blume BrainPop Video

In just a few minutes Tim and Moby highlight Blume herself, her books, and her fight against censorship. I look forward to this connection with 4/5 that will launch us into censorship and Banned Books.

12 Banned Book Week Classroom Activities
At Teacher Hub this post outlines 12 Activities for Banned Books week. I love the focus on the 1st Amendment and especially the Banned Books Poll.

I look forward to this week and developing this concept with K-5. Appreciating our right to read what we want is something our kids need to absorb.

Many Thanks - a Love Letter to Adults with my 7th Grade Daughter Stranded in CO Floods

When she falls, my youngest daughter inevitably breaks a bone. When asthma hits, we are in the hospital for 5 days. Trust me, I can go on, she is that kid. So last week when I was driving to work on a rain soaked morning and heard the first flooding reports from Estes Park, CO my blood ran cold and I knew without a doubt my daughter would be stranded in the mountains away from us.

 We are directly down the canyon from Estes and there is one way up and one way down, Highway 34. My daughter was at the very top of the canyon with 140 kids and adults for the annual 7th Grade trip to Covenant Heights. It is an Outdoor Education experience that is a cornerstone of middle school in Loveland. And of COURSE the night before my Windows phone had completely stopped working and I was without a cell phone.

My husband (and dozens of other parents) called the school and were told that the kids were doing great and that the worst case scenario would be that the kids would stay an extra day until the roads dried out. That seemed logical and about the best we could expect at that time. In the best circumstances, the communication and reception that high is not the best so you just send the kids and trust you will see them in one piece in a few days.

Right before lunch schools in Loveland were cancelled because the City communicated that the flooding was such that the dam was to be opened and it was time for everyone to be home safe. ASAP. STAT. Working to get hundreds of kids home safely while trying not to think about your own child very not safe in the middle of flooding is a challenge I hope to not repeat.

After schools and streets were emptied all we could do was wait and watch the destruction that came across the news screens. At first the communication from the school district was spotty and frustrating. Hearing that our kids were due home at the normal time did not match the washed out roads and flooded canyon we saw.

As the "drop time" for the kids came and went on Friday with no kids, the district went on overdrive communicating with parents. Online posts were updated with regularity and our phones rang frequently with news.

Saturday brought our kids home and with them the news and realities we had all tried to not think about while they were stuck in the canyon. It turns out our kids did not know about the danger they were in and really did have the time of their lives. That's something you hope is happening but it is wonderful to find that they really were kept safe from harm and worry.

This picture from my daughter's phone shows one of the roads that was washed out by their camp. The kids crossed this road by foot while the adults ferried luggage and equipment over the break to the waiting bus. My daughter told me the only reason the kids were concerned was because the "order" to pack up came so quickly they really had no idea what was happening.

When the kids arrived home my daughter was wearing a chaperone's shoes because hers were "too wet" and this mom made sure my daughter had dry feet. So that leaves me thinking about the mom's feet. I KNOW they were wet and I can not imagine she had too many pairs of shoes with her.

As my daughter was settled at home and started watching the horrifying coverage of this disaster we could see the fear and realization set in. She told us flat out she had no idea they were in danger nor that their families down the canyon were in the path of this flood.

THAT is why I will always be thankful to each and every adult who accompanied this group to Covenant Heights. Those kids were there from Wednesday to Saturday and it became clear Wednesday (to the adults) that this was an atypical, dangerous situation. Yet until the last few hours of their trip these kids were having the time of their lives.

AND these kids arrived home safe without an ounce of harm. That took so many extra coordinators at levels I don't even have a clue about. I know it came at a cost and that their worry about their family, home, and trip home was pushed to the back while my child was kept safe. I expected a loooootttttt of tears when the kids arrived on their Charter Buses but surprisingly, kids were off that bus, into the gym for luggage and out the door with very little noise. I think most families were just too relieved to think about anything other than getting their kids home.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

National Thank a Police Officer Day - STEM Style

My Principal received an email last week from a group, "Wives Behind the Badge". This group was asking that we contribute to the National Thank a Police Officer Day in our town. In her email my Principal mentioned that maybe we could find a way to electronically present our thanks and highlight our STEM focus.

You know the deal: Testing starts this week, I already had plans for these dates, I already have lost class time this year...I could go on and on. How are we going to present sufficient electronic THANKS in a way equally busy Police Officers can enjoy?

Simplicity won: I pulled out the CriCut, created a large banner that read "LEES LOVES OUR POLICE" ( a cell phone disaster prevented a visual here). Every student signed the banner and added cute notes and drawings. I videotaped each class delivering a "ThankYou" message with my cell phone and then luckily emailed them to myself before my phone crashed.

After popping the videos onto our school YouTube account (marked "private" so no one will ever see them) it took only two clicks and I had personalized QR Codes. I printed those little guys and added them to the banner. This simple addition brought our banner to life as the Police Officers can quickly scan the codes and see our students THANKING them in 3-D.

Because we are a STEM school I wanted to focus on the Science and Technology that Law Enforcement utilizes. This week I heard "This is SO cool" more than a few times as we explored "Science For Kids By Kids", New Police Technologies and 2013 Police Car Demos.

Primary Grades read Officer Buckle and Gloria (could not pass up that favorite!) and we learned about the important roles Canine Police Units play in Law Enforcement.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Spooktacular Halloween Books for kids of all ages

Halloween is my favorite time of the year to be a Librarian. I love my job in all seasons, but during the fall I really really feel the Love. Our open concept space is decorated with spiderwebs, bats, ghosts and most things spooky. We have a high percentage of underprivileged students and as the data supports, I have noticed that these kids particularly love the holiday festivities and cheer.

And in late September each year I start pulling my Halloween books and both delight and grumble. Hello, my favorites, but aren't there a few new friends we can add to this party?

For the first time ever, my budget has actually INCREASED at both the district and building level: one of the things has meant directly for our shelves is that it is finally time to beef up our Halloween/ Spooky section! Aside from  my personal love of Halloween and all related books, I need to improve this genre to serve the ever increasing requests for the "Scary Books". You have heard it, you know: "Where are the Scary Books?" Our selection has been ok but by now my interested readers have gone through most of the selection and it is time for an update.

SO, money in hand (not a lot but more than I have ever had) and analysis run, I went in search of the new Halloween titles. This list has most of my new picks but also some of my classic favs. Let me know which of your must haves I left out! In alphabetical order only:

Bone Soup is a new purchase, an updated spin on the classic Stone Soup I look forward to sharing with my kids ...along with the original for a fun comparison!

Happy Halloween: I LOVE The Berenstain Bears and it is big fun to see Halloween at the Tree House. I love Sister's wisdom shared with Papa at the end after she and Brother realize all that is different is not necessarily scary.

The Best Halloween Ever: OMG, the Herdmans and Halloween! I can not imagine a better disaster in the making. This makes for a fun read aloud if you have the time or is a perfect read for that student that likes Halloween but not being scared.

Creepy Carrots: This Caldecott winner is another new guy for us but I think I am the last Librarian to add this to her shelves.

BEWARE: We have almost the entire GooseBumps series but this purchase is a direct nod to my students that are ready for the "really creepy" stuff. If not R.L., then who?

Crankenstein: I have taken to calling my daughter Crankenstein in the morning, and I look forward to most of my families sharing this love.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous. I am a HUGE NF fan, and books like this that have a million ways we can go and gross us out are at the top of my list. Year round shelf life!

Doll Bones. I think this will be released later this month or early next but I have a hold list going for it already. Bones, Dolls, who cares which creepy order?

Druscilla's Halloween: A witch that tries to make everything right is a tale we can all relate to. I love sharing the whimsy of Halloween along with the spook.

Frank was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance. This adorably illustrated book would be a  fun companion to Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich.

The GraveYard Book. I love this book so much that students tell me again and again "I have already read TGYB".

Even Monsters Need Haircuts. A clever picture book that is fun for those observant upper grades and cute younger guys at the same time.

The Halloween Kid: I was drawn to this retro classic illustrated book and another non scary Holiday read.

 Half Minute Horrors: I love the quick scary stories we can read as a group at the beginning or end of Library time and have the same impact as a longer selection.

Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble: This story that includes Grandmas, witches and decisions reminds me a little of Auntie Clause and Mrs. PiggleWiggle combined.

IMO, The Hallo-Wiener, no matter how many times I read it, is the gold standard Holiday picture book.

Monster Mash: totally made my daughter cringe when I was singing it out loud in BN AND the illustrations are engaging on their own - without the song I plan to blast while we jam!

How BIG Can Your Pumpkin Grow? No, I have not forgotten we are a STEM school. This imaginative text will lead us into many research based discussions and exploration.

The Spider and the Fly: a Creepy, cautionary classic with engaging illustrations and an accessible lesson for all ages.

Scary Story: What a fun, wonderfully illustrated Halloween story! This has been lost two times and it is a no brainer to be replaced each time.

Vampirina Ballerina: cutest concept ever coupled with the actual cutest Vampire ever guarantees this title will see very little shelf time this year.

The Widow's Broom: simple, engaging illustrations make this story come alive as we discover the secret to the Widow's newest household tool.

Zombie Love: OK, I admit, this is on my Valentine list also. This is a don't miss and I pull it out just because of the Zombies and we all love it!