Sunday, August 17, 2014

New School Year Begins With a Focus on Collaboration

The students first day of school was August 8th. Last year we had moved into the new building, and the library wasn't ready for prime time. I didn't open until August 22nd, three weeks after the start of school. This year, I had students in the library on the first day.  It was a soft opening, so the library wasn't over run with kids, but it was nice to have a functioning library on the first day of school.  

There are some changes in our district this year, and some of our schools are changing grade configurations.  That means librarians who are entrenched in elementary school now must serve middle school students in their libraries.  That is an issue because the library's resources were developed for grades K-5. It costs money to upgrade the resources for the additional grade levels. The other issue is how will these librarians serve the older students.  I got an email today asking me to share lessons that I teach to my middle school students. That is an interesting question. The librarian was hoping that I had lessons written out or worksheets or some program put together that I could send her for her new 6th and 7th grade students. 

6th Graders visit the library for orientation
You know, I just don't have a packaged program to send her. The reason I don't is because I collaborate with the classroom teachers on all my lessons that I teach. I want the students to have a purpose to use all the tools and resources that I demonstrate and share with them. If I teach them how to use a database, and then they never use it, my teaching is a waste of time.

At first, I thought that I had nothing to share with her. Then I realized that I document many of my lessons that I teach here in my blog, and I also have a page on the library website with classroom connections that has links to all the tools that I created for specific research projects. 

This is what I told her: 

"When I teach lessons to the middle school students, I always collaborate with the teachers. I do not teach anything in isolation. I see what the teachers need in terms of help with research, writing citations or using electronic tools to find and produce information. You can find links to some of the things that I created for classes hereUnfortunately, I don't have lesson plans or packets of activities for these students. 

Here is a blog post that I wrote about working with middle school studentsIf you put middle school or research into the search box on my blog you will find more posts where I talk about different lessons that I have taught over the years. 

I strongly believe that you need to work with the teachers so the students will have a chance to use in the classrooms what you teach in the library."

There are lots of great things that a librarian can do to support the academic program, but they need to work in a partnership with their teachers. If they do that, the students will benefit and become better seekers, users and producers of information. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why I Love Teaching

Tomorrow I start my 34th year of teaching. Wow, that is a looooong time. You know what? I still love what I do. Part of the reason is because I have worked in several different schools at several different grade levels. By making these moves I have been able to stay fresh and interested, and I have also had to do a lot of learning along the way which to me has been energizing. 

Years ago when I told my principal of the elementary school where I had worked for 12 years that I was leaving and moving to a library position serving middle and high school, she asked me why. She said that she believed working with younger students was so much more rewarding for the teacher, and that teachers of younger students made a bigger impact on those students' lives than teachers of older students. 

I beg to differ on that point. 

This will be my 9th year at Patrick Taylor Academy, and over my time teaching there, I have served as a mentor for a number of students. Students who still call, text or Facebook me to ask my advice or tell me about the wonderful things that they are doing. I love having these lasting connections. 

The class of 2014 was a very special one. It was our first class to start in 6th grade and then graduate from 12th grade. Many of the members of the class were library kids who spent a lot of time with me over those seven years that they attended PFTSTA. I lost twelve members of the high school library book group, Bookmarked, with their graduation. At our back to school BBQ over the weekend, two of my very favorite alums from that class paid a visit. I hugged them and cried and told them how much they will be missed. I hope they believe me because it is true.

I also got something from them in return. I got two lovely notes expressing thanks and appreciation for what I did to help them through their career at PFTSTA. I hope that they don't mind if I share the notes here. These notes are why I wake up each morning and go to work. They give my job meaning and also lots of pleasure. 
To read the image above, you can enlarge it by clicking twice
Even though I have been teaching for more than three decades, I still feel that I have a lot to offer my students. I also have a lot more to learn because in the library every day is a new day. Here is to a new year, and I can't wait to see what new and exciting learning it brings to me and all of my students. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Processing BLC14: Building Learning Communities Conference

Bordelon, Kahn, Simpson and Valence visit Boston Museum of Fine Arts before the conference begins
In April, we found out that our team of five won a Fund for Teachers grant that would send us to November Learning's Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston in July. Well, I am just back from the conference. I attended this conference three years ago with one teacher from PFTSTA, but it was even more exciting to attend with a team of teachers and the principal, Jaime Zapico. Only the teachers were able to apply for the grant but having our principal with us meant that we could make some solid plans for the 2014-15 school year. 

Each day began with a continental breakfast where we could network with other educators attending the conference. I would find a table with empty chairs that had several people in an active discussion. I really found it to be an invigorating way to start the day. One of the teachers I met at breakfast was an English teacher who explained that she records all comments orally on the papers that she grades. She does no written comments. She uses server space provided by the district to house her audio comments. We have a subscription to When a teacher is in Grademark, they can record comments on a written assignment. This is a technique that Cheryl Bordelon plans to use in her English classes this fall. 

At 8:30 the whole team headed to the ballroom for each day's keynote speech. The best presentation was by Alec Couros. If you are not familiar with this university professor from Canada, you need to follow him on twitter and check out all the resources that he shares. He is teaching future teachers how to use edtech in the classroom to further student learning. Here is his link on digital storytelling. Telling stories and sharing our lives is how we can learn as students and as adults. What we share online will always be there. Be mindful of the stories that you share. I found a link to this sad story on Alec's blog and had not seen it before--check it out here. He also talked about using a number of Chrome extensions to improve your browser experience. I just tried to download One Tab and couldn't. I will have to work on that one. 

One of the keynote sessions, was a set of Ted-like talks with four presenters. Shannon Miller, librarian from Van Meter, IA and one of the four, is always inspiring. I first met her at BLC in 2011, and I have been following her ever since. She mentioned that she had ditched Dewey in her library, and yes, I know that it is a now thing to do, I just can't bring myself to rearrange a library that to me, works. Her talk was about student voice, and the importance for educators to let the students use whatever voice they might have even when it might not fit into our lesson plan. Someone new to me was Darren Kuropatwa. He is a district curriculum coordinator in Winnipeg, Canada. I was so impressed with his message that I attended three of his sessions as well as his keynote. He has a similar take on educational technology that Couros has. Using technology appropriately can be a way to enhance student learning. Isn't that what it is all about--getting our students motivated to learn?

During this conference, I wasn't so focused on new tech tools or using new tech tools but more on the pedagogy. Why do we need to provide these tech experiences for our students? This is sort of a rhetorical question, but if we are to prepare our students for college and careers, then we need to provide them with a myriad of tech experiences that allow them to communicate in lots of different ways, to be creative, collaborate and think critically. This is certainly not new to me, but I like being reminded and being given suggestions on how to make this happen in the classroom. 

Lunch time meeting on the last day of conference
A lunch time meeting was scheduled each day for our team. We wanted to debrief and make plans for the coming school year. The first day it was hard to focus, and we spent some time discussing philosophy, but by the third day, we had a new teacher orientation ready to go and ideas to get all the teachers collaborating and sharing. I found this to be a major theme of the whole conference. When teachers collaborate within the building and across the globe, the students benefit. Yes, it can be hard at times, but it is truly necessary for us to model good collaboration for our students and allow them to learn from many. 

Working on iPad or napkin, whatever it takes to get the job done

Besides the daily keynote speeches, I attended three other sessions a day. Some I attended with my colleagues, others alone. No matter who was presenting I always got some little tidbit as a take away. Most of the attendees at the session on copyright were librarians like me. I really liked this presentation because Kristin Hokanson and Teryl Magee explained that copyrighted work can be used by students if done correctly. You can find a link to their resources here. Amy Burvall is all about letting students be creative. Her presentation was beautiful, so she definitely practices what she preaches. Open here to see the slide presentation that I got to see. One of my favorite sessions was the last session of the day on Thursday when I walked into Darren Kuropatwa's iPad scavenger hunt. All of the 75 attendees at this session were expected to join a group, use their device and play along. It was fun because it was hands on. We got to meet new people and were expected to collaborate with them to complete the scavenger hunt. It proved to be extremely engaging, and I imagine kids would be as taken with it as me. Kelly Maher, who works with our 6th graders first semester, plans to redesign this activity for her classes to complete. 

We also got some time to actually see a little bit of Boston: North End, Cambridge and Copley Square.

walking the cobblestone streets of the North End near Paul Revere's house

photo of all the BLC attendees 

Attending BLC was a wonderful opportunity for all of us. I believe that our students will be reaping the benefits of our attendance for years to come. It would not have been possible without the grant from Fund for Teachers. Fund for Teachers provides grants to educators singly or in teams for summer professional development. The cool thing is that you can create your own PD and travel the world or attend a conference like our team. Thank you FFT for helping us strive to be better educators. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Half Way Through Summer Vacation



The end of this school year was very stressful for me. I take on many duties at school that go beyond the library, and I was on a treadmill for the last month of school trying to meet all my deadlines. I was longing for some much needed down time, and I have rewarded myself over the last few weeks and relaxed and completed many house chores. One of the few things that I have been doing that is related to my job is ---- read. Down time for me means finding time to read for several hours each day. Before the end of school, I grabbed a stack of random books that interested me not ones that I needed to review or read for the middle school book group or because an author was coming to visit us at PFTSTA. This year for middle school summer reading we are using the Louisiana Young Reader's Choice list for 2015. I have already read some of the books, but I really enjoyed Anyway*: *A Story about Me with 138 footnotes, 27 exaggerations, and 1 Plate of Spaghetti by Arthur Salm. As the main character begins his summer vacation, I realized what a great choice of title for a summer reading list. I started Free to Fall by Lauren Miller without knowing anything about it. I thought it was a realistic story that took place today. Was I wrong. You say another dystopian story, and I say try this one. I loved Miller's work and how the mystery that is central to the story unfolds. I began the summer with two of my favorite authors Sarah Dessen's This Lullaby and Deb Caletti's The Last Forever. Both books delivered. I also read Winger by Andrew Smith. Not sure of my verdict on that one. I have a couple of students who loved it, and I certainly know some that I could recommend it to.

Now, I get to go pack for my annual girl's trip to Houston. It is a time to socialize, shop and forget about anything on my to do list.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Teachers Need a Vacation, Too

When summer time hits, it is time for teachers and students to find a way to see the world. Maybe it is through books that they didn't have time to read during the school year or traveling to foreign places. I planned a trip for my husband and myself out west. To those of us living below sea level in southern Louisiana who deal with a humidity that hovers around 85-90% in the summer, going to the mountains is definitely foreign. We planned a trip that kept us outside on the hiking trails of the Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah and the Rocky Mountain National Park. I created the video you see below that tells the story of our adventure. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Jewell Parker. Rhodes Visits via Skype, Ninth Ward Project Complete

Student asks Jewell P. Rhodes a question

Thursday, the 22nd, may have been the very last day of the school year, and the very last hours of the day, but the seventh graders still had one more piece to complete in the Ninth Ward Project---sitting down and having a chat with the author of the book that started it all, Jewell Parker Rhodes. Jewell and I have become friends, but she is also extremely busy. When I contacted her in early March to set up a skype, she was more than willing, but she had difficulty finding time in her hectic schedule when she could meet with us. She sent me an email right before our last week of school to ask if we still wanted to talk to her. It took a bit of work, but we found 30 minutes in between her packing to go away and the last minutes of school for the skype to happen.

Jewell did some reading of Ninth Ward and Sugar. The first book takes place in 2005 during the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but the other takes place on a sugar plantation in Louisiana  just after the Civil War. I love hearing her read. She makes the stories really come alive.

The students asked her questions about what was real in the book. Interestingly, Jewell had been to New Orleans before Katrina, but had not been familiar with the Ninth Ward. She walked the sidewalks there after the storm did its damage. The students also asked about the characters and  why she added the paranormal aspect into the story. They also asked where Lanesha got her strength. I thought that was a wonderful question. Jewell said that she sees kids today with an inner strength that she did not possess as a child. Also, as a child, she yearned to read books with characters that were like her, African American. She felt that she had an important story to write because of this, and she was so right.

Thank you Jewell for taking a bit of time to talk to us and let our students know the power that stories can hold in our lives.

Here is a very short clip of Jewell reading from Ninth Ward:

Read more about the Ninth Ward project here.
Student created products are here.
Find the pathfinder and all the resources to complete the pathfinder here

Monday, May 26, 2014

Marr and Armstrong Share Love of Norse Mythology

That's me holding the Viking shield with Marr on the left and Armstrong on the right
On Monday, May 19th, we were treated to a visit by authors, Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong. They are friends and co-authors of the series, Blackwell Pages, which is a trilogy telling a fast-paced adventure story about some kids who are descendants of the Norse gods. The story explains how these descendants of Thor and Loki join together to find a way to save the world from destruction during Ragnarok. The authors spoke to the entire sixth grade and seventh grade classes in two presentations. That made it easy for me because I could take lots of pictures during the first presentation, and then concentrate on what they were saying the second time around. I am not always the best multi-tasker.

Seventh graders listen intently
Both authors have many books for older teens, but this series is designed for the middle grades. The impetus of these books was threefold. First was their own children--their sons wanted them to write books with great adventures that have a connection to mythology. The two authors have been friends for a long time and wanted a chance to work together. Thirdly, both of these women love monsters. So they put their brains together to come up with a story that would appeal to boys, have lots of action and would play on their interest in Scandinavian folklore.

Kelley explains how monsters were created from found bones
During the presentation they mixed it by alternating between the two of them. They spoke about the series and the various inspiration for certain story elements. Like the fact that after the first book was complete, their sons said the story needed more goats. It seems that Thor had two immortal goats that pulled his cart. Each evening, he would feast on the goats, and each morning they would regenerate to be ready to pull his cart. The authors added more than two goats to their story, and their sons were satisfied. 

Logan lover of Norse mythology is hiding beneath the helmet
Armstrong and Marr also spoke about Norse mythology and Viking lore. Do you see the boy in the helmet in the picture above? Vikings never had horns on their helmets. They looked much like what you see above made of leather or metal. Also, the shield that you see above was commissioned by the authors to be made in the style of a true Viking shield. This particular one is child-sized. Marr said that the adult-sized one that they also had commissioned is almost too heavy for her to even lift. The metal plate that you see in the center can be used for either offense or defense. Check out the pictures below where Marr spars with several students to show just how the shield could be used in battle. 

See how the shield protects your mid-section and organs

The shield could be used to break the arm of your enemy

That shield is pretty cool

The size of the shield helps to protect your body

Showing how the shield can be a weapon

Defending oneself from stabbing

It may have been the beginning of the last week of the school year, but we all had a great time listening to Armstrong and Marr weave their tales. Many students decided to buy not only the first book in the series but the second one as well. I have read the first one, and a copy of the second is sitting on my nightstand. They are going to make great summer reads. I want to thank Little Brown, publishers, and Judith and Tom from Octavia Books for making this visit possible. I am always awed to have books that I recommend to students come to life by the authors who write them. You can see lots more pictures from this event on the PFTSTA library website

Monday, May 19, 2014

Teen Day at the RT Book Lover's Convention in New Orleans

I was not familiar with the RT Book Lover's Convention until one of the other librarians in my district mentioned that she was going. At first I didn't really understand why she was so excited. RT, romantic times, did that mean a convention about those books with hunks baring their chests on the cover? I guess that there is some of that because I saw signs advertising Harlequin romance novels in the hotel.

Melissa Marr, Gayle Forman and P. C. Cast pose with Destiny

Interactive YA writing panel with Malinda Lo, Melissa Marr, Gayle Forman,
Beth Revis, Aprilynne Pike and P.C. Cast and moderated by David Macinnis Gill

Liars' YA panel moderated by Kelley Armstrong with Tamora Pierce, Carrie Ryan, Kiera Cass,
Colleen houck and Rachel Caine

Actress, Liana Liberato and author, Gayle Forman talk about making the movie for Forman's book, If I Stay

Traditionally, on the Saturday of the convention, teens are invited to spend the day because there are over 100 young adult authors who participate in the panels and sessions during the week long convention. I invited the outgoing president of Bookmarked, Paris, and the incoming president of Bookmarked, Destiny to go with me. It really is a good deal because it costs over $400 to attend the full convention, but it only cost $30 for one teen and a chaperone to attend. We chose to go late in the afternoon after the giant book fair where all the authors signed books. We got to see three panels and attend the teen party where we could mingle with the authors. Unfortunately, Destiny had to leave early because she was in the school play and only got to see two panels. I was able to snag a bag full of books for her, so I will be able to hand her a nice gift when I see her back at school. 

Gayle Forman and Paris

At the party

Teen Day Party is filled with teens and authors 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Invitation to Val/Sal Luncheon

Sal--Abrania and Val--Lauren show off awards from JPPSS

In the Jefferson Parish school district at the end of each school year, there is a special luncheon to honor the valedictorians and salutatorians for all of the thirteen high schools. All the principals are invited, some central office staff, and the two students from each school are asked to bring as a guest, a teacher who had an impact on their lives. This year, I was invited to attend by the valedictorian. Lauren has been at PFTSTA since 6th grade. She was a member of Bookmarked since she was a sophomore. At the end of her sophomore year, she was inducted in the National Honor Society, of which I am the faculty adviser. This past school year she served as the NHS president. She was an outstanding president who served as a strong leader, a hard worker and a super team player. As she leaves PFTSTA, I know that she has what it takes to succeed as she continues her education and seeks a fulfilling career. I was honored to be her guest, and when she introduced me as a person who is the complete opposite of her in terms of our personalities, I realized that what I have to offer the students is not always what I am directly teaching through the library program. Thank you Lauren for inviting me to the luncheon that honored your hard work; it meant a lot to me. 

Me and Lauren 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fund for Teachers Fellowship 2014

Read about our program on the Fund for Teachers website
It all started way back in the fall when Lisa Valence and I read about a grant that would pay for teacher's professional development in the JPPSS district newsletter. We thought it would be a good way to get a group of us teachers to one of the summer conferences like ISTE or BLC. The application was due in late January. With the move to the new facility in late July, I was backed up and never got a chance to work on the grant. Until..... We were going to have two days off for bad winter weather---sleet and snowy conditions--in southern Louisiana!!! I went around to four teachers, each from a different department, and asked if they would be available on our snow day to work on a grant. We input the info with the rubric on a Google Doc and divided up the sections. Each person wrote a section. Then Lisa and I did some editing to make sure it sounded cohesive. Our English teacher, Cheryl Bordelon, read it for clarity and smooth transitions as well as the nuts and bolts like grammar. In two days we put together a 2500 word grant application asking for $10,000 that sounded pretty good. 

On April 4th, we found out that we won. A group of five us: Cheryl Bordelon, myself, Kelly Maher (technology), Janell Simpson (science) and Lisa Valence (math) will travel to Boston to attend Alan November's Building Learning Communities (BLC) institute. Our principal, Jaime Zapico, will travel with us too. We serve as the leadership team in the building at PFTSTA

Read about us on the JPPSS district website
Our proposal:
Teacher Collaboration + Student Engagement = Successful Learning
Program description:
Making connections and networking with fellow educators from around the world, and learning new technology techniques at the Building Learning Communities Conference (BLC14), the team will design lessons that allow students to collaborate with experts and other students beyond our classroom walls.

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