Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Author, Jen Calonita, Shares Stories on Becoming a Writer

I am the one on the left!
A month or so ago I heard that we might have a visit from author Jen Calonita. Then I didn't hear anything confirming the date and time. I got so busy that I forgot to email or call to make sure we were on her schedule in New Orleans. Then it got to crunch time, and I was heading out of town for two days to attend the Louisiana Library Association annual conference. I needed to plan our visit. I don't like to do things last minute. It all worked as we were well prepared for her visit, but I did only have a handful of days to get ready. That just makes me crazy. 

I certainly like meeting new authors, but since BRiMS had skyped with Jen in 2015, I was pumped to meet her face to face. When we talked to her in 2015, only the first book in the Fairy Tale Reform School series had been published. For this visit, Jen was kicking off the publication of the third book. After hearing her talk, the students who bought the first book went home that night and promptly finished it. I had purchased multiple copies for the library for our skype session, and all of those were checked out the next day by students who couldn't wait to begin reading. I love how an author has that effect on the students. Every time an author comes to our school, students will hesitate about buying the book before the big day. I always tell them to bring their money and decide after the talk if they want to purchase the book. Invariably, they choose to get the book. 

The students enjoyed what Jen had to say about her journey from young reader to writer. She left time for many questions at the end of her talk. The students asked great questions. Why does she have to rename the fairy tale characters? It is a shame to me that students tend to think of fairy tales in terms of the Disney versions as definitive. Of course, copyright law will not allow her to use the Disney name for any of her characters. Same goes with the question about putting a Harry Potter character into her story. 

Happy Readers!

When the talk was over, there was time for signing books. Many of the students who attended last year's skype went up to Jen to ask if she remembered them and their question. She didn't remember them of course, but she did remember many of their questions. One student had asked her about Bluebeard the Pirate, who she was going to include in a later book, and because they student had read widely on the subject of the pirate the two had discussed what is known about him. Another student had suggested Cursed as a future book title as all the titles were going to be one word and verbs. Though Jen loved the idea of Cursed, it hasn't made it on the cover of a book, yet. 

Getting authors to our school would not be possible without the kind generosity of the publisher (in this case Source Books) and a local bookstore (in this case Octavia Books). Patrick Taylor Academy is author friendly, and we love having visitors to our school who get to meet and learn from our awesome students. See lots more pictures of the day on the library website

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lesson in the Library on How to Spot Fake News

I know that my students need help in assessing the validity of information that they find on the web. So I approached one of the English I teachers to see if she would like a lesson on how to discern the difference between fake and real news. Her students were starting Animal Farm by George Orwell. We thought this would be the perfect place to insert my lesson as propaganda plays a key role in the story as well as the Squealer's ability to adjust the facts to fit his own logic to get the animals to do his bidding. 

Designed using results from Media Bias/Fact Check
So I created a slide show that would direct students to various tasks using web tools that would allow them to look at websites and news feeds in a new way. I like to start a lesson with something to grab students attention. I have used giphs or memes, but for this lesson I found a fabulous video that you will find linked on the second slide. The author of Broadcast Hysteria, A. Brad Schwartz, put together a seven minute video about his book using excellent vintage photos and videos to evoke the feel of the 1938 War of the Worlds' broadcast. To find the web tools, I started with a Huffington Post story and then moved on to tools promoted by November Learning. Then I read about the Media Bias/Fact Check website. I don't remember how I found that one. Maybe it was on the New York Times. Finally, I found a great infographic where they had used the Media Bias//Fact Check website to fit different news media on a continuum from left to right. You can see that infographic pictured above.

In some of the tasks that I give to my students, I use two of my own websites as examples. I ask them who has registered our school library website: It was me. Also, I ask them to find out who has linked to this blog, and if they think those links give the blog that I write credibility in school library world.

Student response on Padlet

Below is my slide show. Please feel free to copy it and make it your own to use at your school. You may want to edit the links for my library to something that you own. I have also included Padlets at the end of the slide show for the students to reflect on what they learned and what else they might like to know. Those Padlets are now closed, but you may read them or you may want to create your own for your students.The lesson in its entirety took about 75 minutes. On the slides where the students had to open links and read articles, I gave them plenty of time to read. Also, we were having some Internet issues, and so you will find screenshots embedded in the slides just in case the students could not open the links. I wanted this to be a hands on activity, but we cannot always count on the Internet when we need it. I was thrilled with how this lesson turned out, and I had my principal observe me during one of the presentations for my official spring observation. 

Open here for a link to the Google Slide Show. You may make a copy and edit to fit your needs. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Presentation on the Research Process for Louisiana Librarians

When March rolls around, I better be prepared for the annual Louisiana Librarian Association Conference. This year, I will be heading to Lafayette on Wednesday. I am going to be presenting twice.

The presentation that I planned is how to manage the research process for middle and high school students. I have given this presentation before in a bit different format to teachers but never to a group of librarians. I am sharing the slide show for this presentation with you below, and you can find links embedded in the slides to view all the tools that I have created for my students. Please note that many of the points that I make in the presentation may be something that we take for granted as librarians. My point in reiterating them in the presentation is that it is important to teach both your teachers and students the importance of following correct format, using varied sources, citing correctly, etc. If we know how to follow correct research practices, it is our job to teach it and make sure that our teachers follow through in the classroom. 
This is how the presentation reads in the conference brochure

I don't like to do anything at the last minute, but I really wanted to bring the teacher's voice to my presentation on research and the importance of collaboration. Today, the day before I present,  I recorded Cheryl Bordelon, the chair of the English department. I asked some questions about the importance of research, and she kindly answered. 
Hear her answers below. 
English teacher talks about research and collaborating with librarian from Elizabeth Kahn on Vimeo.
The other presentation that I will be doing is for the Louisiana Teen's Reader's Choice Awards. This session is designed to present the books that were selected for the 2018 awards. I am on the state committee to select the books, and I will help by booktalking Nimona by Stevenson, All the Bright Places by Niven, and Dumplin' by Murphy. You can find download the full list of the 2018 LTRC books here

Friday, February 10, 2017

Revisiting Blind Date with a Book

In 2014 was the first time that I set up a display for Blind Date with a Book (BDWB). The kids loved it. When I set up the display the following year, I had students add some information about each book on the wrapping so that students could make an informed choice. This really improved the whole blind date experience. 
What will this new read be?

Then I said the heck with this, it is so difficult to wrap the books and keep wrapping additional books after the books get checked out that I stopped putting up the display. This year I have seen so many cute displays on social media, and Pinterest is filled with BDWB display ideas. I decided it was time to bring it back to my library.

She is a happy camper!
I needed to figure out a simpler way to package the books, list some qualities of the book, and be ready to add new books to the display as they get checked out. I made a nice design on Canva to print out, and you can find it here and feel free to copy and use. I glued the 8 1/2 by 11 sheets that I printed onto manila envelopes. Then I put the envelopes through the laminator. I carefully scored the envelopes at the opening to keep the lamination in tact. Then I printed out the hearts with the details about each book and cut those out. The details I did not laminate. I just carefully taped them to the back of the envelope. I figured once the book is checked out I would need to add a different one to  the display, and it will have different details. The tape comes off of the lamination very easily. The only downside is the envelope is open at the top, and the students could look in if they wanted.

Details of each book to put on the back

I trust my students not to peek. On the flip side, I do want them to find a book that they will enjoy, so I don't worry if they have taken a quick look. This display always seems to encourage kids who might not usually check out a book to take one. They might not always like the book, but at least they tried. I am all for making the attempt to be the book matchmaker for my students. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Makerspace Addition of Ozobots Keep Students Engaged

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One of the parents at my school encouraged me to write a Donor's Choose grant at the beginning of the school year. She just knew that the Chevron Fuel Your School program would fund the grant idea that I had for robots in the library. I was thrilled about that because I hate having to beg friends, family, and parents for the money to fund projects on Donor's Choose. I think that Donor's Choose is a great way to obtain new materials, but I am not always comfortable soliciting donations. For some reason Chevron passed over my grant and another at my school. I still wanted the Ozobot robots for the library, so I rewrote the grant with less items costing less money in hopes that it would be funded quickly. It was. We have had the Ozobots only about a week. They are delightful little "creatures" and keep the students busy before school and during lunch in the library.

The library has had three Sphero robots in the makerspace for about a year. The students love how fast they can travel. They will have them on the floor weaving in and out of each other's path, up and down the ramp, and singing and dancing to a catchy tune. The Sphero robots are controlled by any of several free apps found on the iPad. Some of the apps just control the robots' movements, other apps offer more in the way of coding with blocks very similar to Scratch. As popular as the Sphero are in my library, I wanted to buy another kind of robot that might appeal to a different kid.

The Ozobots are cute and tiny. They are only about one inch by one and a quarter inch. I said that they were small. They would work great on a table or desk, but my students have them running on a huge sheet of bulletin board paper about 3 feet by 5 feet, so the floor is the only place for this to work.

Ozobot in Action 3 from Elizabeth Kahn on Vimeo.

The Ozobots are programmed to follow color codes to make them change speed, alter direction or blink lights in various colors. The idea is to "build" a track that the Ozobots will follow. They can be controlled by a free app on an iPad with many possible tracks that the user can pull up and use with the Ozobot. Some kids like pairing the iPad and robot together. Since the iPads we have are minis and the robots are so tiny, this a one person endeavor.

Several students are working as an unofficial team to design a track on large paper. Regular markers in black, green, red and blue are used to create the codes. If the line is too thinly drawn, the Ozobot stops moving. That is an easy fix. The starter kit that I got had some code on vinyl, but those would only stick on the laminated cards that I made not the huge sheet with the track. Cruising Amazon I found some stickers just for the Ozobot. An eight year old came up with the idea after receiving a robot as a gift, and he developed the stickers into a product to be sold. The stickers with the color codes can be added to the track drawn by the students. The sticker packages have just over 200 stickers, and I bought three packs. They should last for awhile.

Ozoeasy stickers

Ozobots may have been designed for a younger user because the coding is so easy, but my middle school students have really taken a shine to them. Even one of the 9th graders said that she would like to have one of her own.

  Ozobot in Action 2 from Elizabeth Kahn on Vimeo.

Everyday it seems that the kids have figured out something new about how they move or how they can manipulate their movements. At $59 each, they are affordable, and you really don't need much extra gear to have fun just paper and markers.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Enthralling Skype with Author, Marieke Nijkamp

At the beginning of the school year, I planned a skype session for each of the three book groups that I run. On Monday, the high school book group had their chance to talk to an author. Marieke Nijkamp is Dutch and her first published book This is Where it Ends is all American. It is written from the point of view of several characters who experience 54 minutes of school when a student pulls a gun out during a school assembly and proceeds to kill and wound many. 

This skype session like all the ones that I do began with Nijkamp talking for 15 minutes about how she came to write this book (she was visiting the US during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting), all the research that she did (she talked to American friends who experienced a shooting at their school), and how much she has grown to love the characters in the book (she knew ahead of time which characters would live and which would die). Then I left 15 minutes open to questions from the students. I don't ask the students to tell me their questions ahead of time because I know those questions can change depending on what the author says at the onset. My students are deep thinkers, and I totally trust them to ask appropriate questions. Each student walks up to the camera so the author can see who is talking. If the student has additional questions or comments while they are standing, I let them continue to speak. 

I was a bit concerned when the skype started that the students would not be engaged. I was only able to convince a handful of students to read the book ahead of time because many of the members of Bookmarked prefer fantasy and sci fi over realistic fiction. I really had nothing to worry about though because they were thoroughly engaged and mesmerized by Nijkamp. She is also a fan of fantasy so they had that in common. When it was time to ask questions, it did not matter if the student had read the book. The author gave enough information that made all of them curious to know more about her writing process. 

What did the students ask? One asked about how she selected the characters' names. She said that she spent hours on baby name websites to figure out who would be named what. That made them giggle, but they could totally relate. She was also asked why she put LGBTQ characters in the book. Nijkamp explained that diversity was important for her to include in the story. She said that all of her books will contain LGBTQ characters. I asked her how being Dutch and writing an American story jived with the advice of many to write what you know. She agreed that she had to do a lot of research about American schools before she could write this book, but the emotions that her characters felt were universal. The idea that one's life could change in an instant through tragedy or a natural disaster could happen anywhere in the world. 

After she learned about Sandy Hook Elementary, she became obsessed with writing about a shooting. She read a lot of young adult literature with school shootings but did not find one that told the story at the time of the incident. That is how her book was born. The students told me that the skype session was great because they could identify with Nijkamp, and they loved her accent. 

Thanks to Source books for helping to make this event happen. Find more on the library website here

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My Year in Books 2016

I was looking at Goodreads online, which I rarely do, and found a nice infographic illustrating the books that I read over the last year. I thought it was pretty cool so I wanted to share it with you here. I didn't want to just add a link, so I searched the web to find a way to embed it into my blog. I found which allows you to create a free card out of any website. I thought that was pretty nifty, and it worked well for me here. 

Ms. Kahn's Year in Books

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy 2017 After a Much Needed Break

Tomorrow, I go back to school after our winter break. I spent my break visiting with friends and family, resting and exercising, and reading some awesome young adult literature. What I didn't do is think much about school and the library. Just like this past summer, I needed some time to regroup. I tend to feel guilty when I don't have something new and different for the library right up my sleeves. It can really get exhausting constantly reinventing what I do. I needed to turn off professionally for awhile. 

Here are some of the books that I read over break:

I give this one 5 stars! Loved it.

King is amazing, and this story is not like any other. 

Good characters, and who doesn't like a story with NYC as one of the characters

December is always a busy month. One important thing that I had on my agenda was a visit with the Louisiana Superintendent of Education, John White. I went with six other members of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians to talk with him about ESSA and school libraries. ESSA is the federal program called Every Student Succeed Act that takes the place of No Child Left Behind. This is the first time since before NCLB that librarians and libraries are mentioned in the federal plan. The draft of Louisiana's ESSA plan did not mention the library. We went to speak with John White to make sure that libraries are included at the state level so that individual districts will know that federal funds can be spent in the library. He was extremely receptive, and we have high hopes. Our next contact with him is a conference call later this month. 

Around the middle of December there was news traveling the Internet about Denzel Washington visiting his former librarian to wish her a happy birthday. It always helps to have stories like these to broadcast the power of libraries in all of our lives. I enjoyed reading about it, but it was the comment made on Facebook by one of my former students that was a true surprise. She attended PFTSTA when I first became librarian there, and she is now a teacher herself. The following is our conversation on FB. Wow! I was surprised by her superlatives, but I certainly loved hearing them. 

Then it came time for presents right before break. The candy, homemade treats, and mugs are nice, but it is the cards written from the heart that I love the best. I got two cards this year that really meant something to me. One was from a teacher, and though she did not write much, her words were powerful. She is the head of the English department, and we work very closely together to provide the best for our students. The other note was from an 8th grade student. 

Isn't nice to have a teacher say this!

Read transcript of student's note below

Transcript of student's note, and I don't think that any commentary is necessary. Her words say it all:
Dear Ms. Kahn
You are the best librarian I have ever had. Honestly, you are what makes school bearable. 

Thank you for being amazing. Thank you for book club every week and thank you for letting me spend every lunch in the library becauase the cafeteria is terrifying. 

Because of you and (the) library, I have met three of my best friends and read a lot more than I would have on my own. 

Thank you for letting me read your ARCs (Advanced Reader's Copy) and for all of the awesome book suggestions. 

Please enjoy the toffee. (her mom is an amazing cook and baker)

Also, have an amazing Christmas break. 

😊 To all of you, I wish a prosperous, healthy, and happy new year in both your professional and personal lives!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Ruta Sepetys Skypes with BRiMS

I love author visits either face to face or virtual. Authors are my rock stars, and I love making connections with them that I can then bring back and share with my students. On a recent face to face visit at our school by T. A. Barron, one of the teachers came to school the next day and explained her surprise when she went home to tell her son about our author visit. Her son was a fan of Barron and had read every one of his books in his school library. She had no clue that the author who was at our school the day before was nationally recognized. I only want the best for my students.

I first met Ruta Sepetys in 2011 at ALA, but that was only for a simple book signing for her first book. In 2013 when her book that took place in New Orleans came out, I figured out a way to get her to visit school when she hit New Orleans on her book tour. She was a phenomenal speaker and had the juniors eating out of her hand. We met again in 2014 at the Louisiana Book Festival and at the International Reading Association Conference, and we have also had a chance to visit one on one when she was visiting the city. So I felt very comfortable contacting her to schedule a skype with the middle school book group, BRiMS.

For this session, I asked the students to read Sepetys first book, Between Shades of Gray. When we hold a skype, the author will usually talk for 10 to 15 minutes about their work and then I open it up to questions. I knew not every student had read the book but that did not matter. From Sepetys first words, the students were on the edge of their seats intent on hearing her every word. She made her presentation interesting certainly to those who read her book but also to those who did not. She talked about how she came to writing late in life, that she gains inspiration from history that is little known, and how she has been a storyteller ever since she was in elementary school.

When it was time for questions, the students were all over the map. Since Between Shades of Gray was being made into a movie and called Ashes in the Snow, they wanted to know if any of her other books would also be movies (I am not telling).  They wanted to know if her first book would ever have a sequel (maybe some day). One student who is also a writer wanted to talk to her about the writing process and how it feels when people you don't know read your work (thrilling).

The group talked with her for a little over 30 minutes. Then as most of them left, I began talking to Sepetys. Several of the members walked up to the camera asking if they could ask one more question. She obliged them of course. They really did not want to leave the library and the magic of talking to this author who has so much passion for writing stories. As I talked to the members today about yesterday's visit, they all said it was such a fantastic experience.

I am so glad that I could arrange that meeting for my students, and I hope that it is an event that they will treasure in years to come. One student marched in first thing this morning because she needed to check out Salt to the Sea and that is what the library is all about.

PS: I wanted to add information about the technology for this skype and thought it would fit in a postscript. In the past, I always used my laptop with a webcam for skype sessions. Students would walk up to the camera to ask their questions so the author could see who was talking. For some reason my laptop will no longer access the external webcam while in skype. I bought an adapter for my tripod to hold my iPad. I have an adapter to connect the ipad to the interactive white board (IWB) and an audio cord. I liked doing the skype through iPad. Since the author is on the IWB and the audio runs through the IWB's speakers, the audio and picture are quite clear and easy for the students to see and hear everything. With the iPad in use for the skype, I just took pictures with my phone. I think that I will do this again in January when we have another scheduled skype visit.

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