Sunday, March 22, 2015

Authors, J & P Voelkel Make a Third Visit to PFTSTA

On March 17th, the middle school students were treated to a performance by authors Jon and Pamela Voelkel that kept the kids enthralled from the moment it began to the action-packed conclusion. The Voelkels have become friends of mine as well as friends of our school. They were traveling because the last book in the Jaguar Stones series was published last month, but their publisher, Egmont, sent them to the West Coast, not New Orleans. Since both New Orleans and St. Louis are featured in the journey that Max and Lola take to save the world from Ah Pukuh in the book, The Lost City, the Voelkels decided to plan a trip to our area on their own. I am so glad that they did. 

Their visit began with dinner at Pascal Manale's. An uptown institution that specializes in delicious seafood. Not only did we have a great meal that night, but there was a celebrity sitting at a table next to ours. Singer, Harry Connick Jr., was enjoying a meal with his family. We really wanted to get a picture but did not want to intrude, so Lulu, the Voelkel's daughter, posed with the book she was reading. 

Lulu shares her latest read, while Connick shares his phone 
The Voelkels had warned me that many of the activities and bits that they were going to share with my students included much of what we had seen on their previous two visits. Since the audience was made up of students who did not attend PFTSTA in 2010 and 2011, all that the Voelkels said and showed was brand new to this crop of 6th and 7th graders. Pamela introduces the students to the characters, Max and Lola, and the fictional aspects of the book. Like when Max disguises himself as a member of a rock band to hide out in book two. One of the highlights of the visit was the chance for so many students to get on stage with inflatable guitars to act out a little of their inner rock star.

Jon shows the students some classic rock moves
Jon teaches a couple of students how to use a blowgun to destroy one of the death lords trying to destroy Max and Lola. 

Learning how to use a blowgun

The Voelkels also share information about the Mayan culture. Jon grew up in Latin America visiting Mayan ruins, but as adults the two have returned to Central America with their own three children to study, learn, and get some fuel for the adventures their characters encounter when they meet the Mayan death lords in the books. I really liked some of the enrichments and additions that they made to the multi-media of pictures and video that they present to the students. Pamela states that the fictional Indiana Jones is her favorite archaeologist, but then she introduces several real life archaeologists and shows video of these adventurers describing some of their real-life exploits while traveling through jungles looking for artifacts. There are also plenty of pictures and videos of the Voelkels' trips. Jon eats some interesting creatures on their travels. At the end of their presentation, I made sure the students heard how Jon passed on the creatures that I had eaten the night before when I had joined them for dinner. Manale's is known for their raw oysters, and I never pass up a chance to eat them. Jon declined to taste, but Pamela popped one in her mouth and declared them tasty. 

It was bittersweet to say goodbye to Jon and Pamela, but I had to wish them well as they are going to be spending the next few weeks traveling and sharing with other students across the country. Find more pictures of this author visit on the library website here

More about The Lost City, the last book in the Jaguar Stones series:

When the Voelkels were researching for this book, they visited New Orleans to see where their characters would actually travel that made sense to the story and to the city itself. They really wanted to be true to the geography and culture of the city. I met with them on that visit, and I also consulted with them after their first draft on the pages about New Orleans. When the book arrived in its published format, I found myself in the acknowledgements.

Click the picture above to enlarge it 
While searching on the web, I found a blog post where Pamela Voelkel was interviewed about the new book. During the online interview, she describes how I helped her find locations for her book

Friday, March 20, 2015

Teen TECH Week 15 Was Huge Success

I think that this year's events for Teen TECH Week (TTW) were more successful than any other year. Not sure why, but I tried to simplify which made my life easier. Since the kids seemed to enjoy the daily activities, I am thinking that my plan worked. I designed one lunch time activity each day, and I sent out a research riddle by email each day.

One of our TTW traditions is to show the animated shorts that are nominated for an Academy Award. I started this a few years ago because TTW fell about the same time as the awards, so there is always some buzz in the media about the shorts. This is an easy activity to plan, and all I need is the movies and popcorn. I usually start the week off with the movie. 

On the second day of TTW, the students put on their engineering hats to design towers made from marshmallows and toothpicks. I was really hoping that the students would be inspired by the books that I had available, but none of the books enticed them. I am sorry about that because I think that design-wise the students structures may have stood up better if they had followed patterns used by real architects and engineers. It was a whole lot of fun for everyone who participated, and it is important sometimes to just play, so I am not complaining. 

I decided to take Wednesday and make it an anti-tech day. I invited my friend, Whitney Stewart, to school to teach the students about mindfulness. Taking their time to smell, taste, and eat chocolate chips seemed to be the highlight of this exercise. When students visiting the library the next day could be heard saying, "let's go to the back of the library and meditate," I knew that Whitney's visit had impressed them. 

Possibly the most popular activity of the week was our photography event. I am not sure how I came up with this idea because I found out about it in the fall and had been saving it for TTW. The students found books with heads or hands on the cover and filled themselves in with the rest of the body. It is harder to explain than show you. You can see some examples below. This was so easy and fast, but the kids really got into it. The only drawback was that I had to catch them quick with my camera because they were using their own cameras to grab shots, and I wanted to record each and every book cover for the library. 

On the last day, we played Game of Phones. It was a game I created, and I blogged about it here with detailed instructions. When I tweeted about it, I heard from someone who has created a card game by the same name. Their game is slightly different from mine, but the idea is similar. The kids had a blast with this game, and I am glad it was played on Friday because I needed two days off to recuperate. 

The research riddles that we play is also a TTW tradition. You can find pictures from the day and the riddles all on the library website here

Author, Peter Lerangis Put on a One Man Show

On March 9th, not only did we kick off Teen TECH Week at PFTSTA, but we also hosted our first live out of town author visit of the year. Though there have been several skype author visits this year, and I invited two local authors who are friends of mine to visit, Peter Lerangis was the first official author who is touring the country to tout his newest book. 

I was not too familiar with his work before I found out that he was available to visit our school, so I was surprised when I heard that he had written over 150 books. Some of his work was done under a pseudonym, and of course, I wouldn't know about those books. It was the fourth book in the Seven Wonders series that brought him to town.

Peter's presentation kept the kids on the edge of their seats as they laughed with him and answered his questions. In another life, he was a professional actor, so he used lots of different voices as he told stories about himself to entertain the students. My favorite stories were the ones that he told about some of his classmates in college who included Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and the one about his trip to Russia for the Russian Book Festival with Marc Brown and R. L Stine where he traveled on Air Force One.

You can visit with someone virtually, but it is the face to face contact that can really draw the students in. Days after he left I saw students around campus reading his books. Look for more pictures from the day on the library website.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Game of Phones

Prizes for the game

I have several posts to make about a recent author visit and all of our activities for Teen TECH Week 15 (TTW15) . Those posts will get written, but I really want to get the explanation of the activity that we did on Thursday for TTW15 posted first. This is the story of how it all started. 

Members of the National Honor Society (NHS) were going to help with the Key Club's family night. I am the faculty adviser for NHS, and the students and I were going to create a photo scavenger hunt using phones or another device with a camera. Initially, this group was going to run a game where players would be given a list of photos to take at the event. Once all the photos were taken, the players would come back and get a prize. In the end, it turned out that the Key Club was going to plan all the games and activities, and the members of NHS would help run those games. That was the end of the phone scavenger hunt for NHS.

When I was planning for TTW, I pulled out the idea of the phone scavenger hunt. The high school book group usually helps me devise the rules of our games, but I thought that they were trying to make it too complicated. I came up with a set of rules for the game where the players could come and go. We celebrate TTW during lunch, so the participants don't arrive at the same time. I also wanted the game to work with a small group or a large group of players. 

How to play the game:

Step 1: Collect Prizes
I save up swag from conferences, ARCs, and items purchased from the dollar store. I probably had about 30 to 40 items as prizes.

Step 2: Create a list of the types of photos that the players will need to find on their phone or device. You will see my list of 50 types below. Feel free to use. The students were allowed to bring in any device where they had saved photos. I am not sure how far down the list that the game moderators reached because I had to move around the library that day to oversee the students not playing the game. The students played for about 30 minutes, and everyone walked away with a prize. 

Step 3: The game moderator will read one type of picture at time. The players must find that picture and hold up their phone to show the moderator. It is at the moderator's discretion to decide who was the first to show that type of picture. Once a winner for that round was determined, the student could select a prize. So if the players are asked to show a picture of themselves with someone younger, the first one who can find that picture, holds it up, and the moderator checks the picture to see if it fits the category. 

Very simple, but I had two high school students running the game with about 25 middle school players. I had to intervene several times to remind the players to stay in their seats until the moderators picked the winner. I also had to make sure the moderators only asked for one type of picture at a time and waited until someone found that picture before moving to the next one. It got a little chaotic and definitely needed adult supervision, but everyone playing seemed to have a great time. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Getting Ready for Teen TECH Week 2015

Spring is upon us in southern Louisiana, and the azaleas are blooming. All this means that it must be time for YALSA's annual event to celebrate technology in the library. By this time in the school year, I am swamped in the library, and I look for ways to simplify my life. I still wanted to celebrate Teen TECH Week, so I needed to plan it all out in just a couple of days because I ran out of time (usually I plan weeks in advance) and I needed it to be easy to administer without a lot of help. We always do a set of research riddles sent via email that students must answer daily to receive a small prize, I used old questions from Google-a-day for the riddles. I found these questions in a lesson plan format from Google with hints which I am giving to the students because I think that many of them could use guidance on good search techniques. I devised one activity for each day that I could design and implement quickly. Putting on weekly events like this always take a lot of time planning and a lot of time in the marketing to make sure students and staff know what is happening when. To advertise Teen TECH Week, I put the list of activities on a poster on the door and on a sign right outside the library, on the library website, on the daily email announcements sent to students and parents, in an email sent to all students and all staff and the school and library Facebook pages. Below you can find what we are doing to celebrate. On Wednesday, you will see that we are having a visitor. That activity I planned with my friend and author, Whitney Stewart, over a month ago. I know that she gets very busy, and I would never be able to ask for assistance at the last minute. I think that it is going to be a fun-filled week, and there will be students visiting the library during lunch who I don't usually see. 

Monday:                     Popcorn and a Movie
Kick off Teen Tech Week and visit the library during your lunch period to watch a movie and eat some popcorn. Showing will be the Oscar winning animated short, The Feast, as well as several other animated shorts nominated for this year's Academy Award.  

Tuesday:                     Marshmallow Engineering
Are you an engineer? You can be today. Visit the library at lunch to build a tower using marshmallows, toothpicks, and skewers. You will need to think like an architect with your design and solve any problems like a construction worker as you build your structure. 

Wednesday:               Practice Mindfulness for an Anti-Tech Day 
Let’s put away the technology for a day. Visit the library at lunch to meet Whitney Stewart who will be talking you through exercises in mindfulness. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation, but thousands of studies have documented the physical & mental health benefits of mindfulness. Learn how you can achieve a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits by practicing this form of meditation.
Here are some apps for your phone or tablet that can help you get started on mindfulness:
Stop, Breathe & Think
Smiling Mind
Take a Break
Shop Wild Mind 
Open here for an article about teens and mindfulness.

Thursday:                   Picture Yourself on the Cover
We provide the books; books with faces on the cover that is. You provide the body. We will take your picture with the book covers in place of your face.

Friday:                       Game of Phones
We will play a game with your phone or other device where you have photographs. We will ask for a specific kind of picture. If you can show that picture on your device, then you will win a prize. 

Daily:                          Research Riddles 4 TTW 2015
Check out the daily emails from Ms. Kahn
A research question will be sent out via email every day during TTW. You can play every day and win something every day. You will need to write your answer and source on the form available in the library. This will be your entry for the grand prize. At the end of TTW, one name will be pulled from the middle school jar and one  from the high school jar. Each grand prize winner will receive a $15.00 gift card to iTunes.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

Battle of the Kids Books is Returning and So Are We

SLJ BOB 2015 -- Book Covers

Last year my school participated in the School Library Journal sponsored Battle of the Kids Books. Any school or library or anyone can participate, but SLJ highlighted my school online as we put on an all out battle to the death among the 16 books.  It was a blast, and both the middle school students and high school students really got into it. This year we have started slow, and I am waiting for copies of all the books to arrive after ordering them last week. Today as I was reading the February 2015 issue of SLJ, I found a mention of my school library and myself concerning our participation in the BOB for 2014. That was a nice surprise. 

If you want to get your students involved, you need to have the following books available in your library: 
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson
CHILDREN OF THE KING by Sonya Hartnett
CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander
EGG & SPOON by Gregory Maguire
EL DEAFO by Cece Bell
THE FAMILY ROMANOV by Candace Fleming
THE MADMAN OF PINEY WOODS by Christopher Paul Curtis
POISONED APPLES by Christine Heppermann
THE PORT CHICAGO 50 by Steve Sheinkin
THE STORY OF OWEN by E. K. Johnston
THIS ONE SUMMER by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart
WEST OF THE MOON by Margi Preus

Next post the brackets, set up a timeline, figure out a way for the students to participate, and then let the battle begin. I think this year we might go more low key with our battles. I am going to set up a display in the library, ask the students to write a blurb about why their selected book should win, and let all who enter the library cast their vote. Our debate style of presentations were scheduled during lunch last year, but it took two weeks just to get through round one. It was over a month from start to finish. I am happy to say that I found all of the books in the battle had a surge in circulation during and after the battle period. That is one of the main reasons for conducting BOB anyway; to get kids reading! 

Door sign from the 2014 SLJ BOB with the PFTSTA winner:
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Creating Tools for Specific Assignments

I have been writing a lot here about the different types of collaboration that I have been doing in all subject areas. I want to share an instance where I created the tool for a science class, but I didn't really do any teaching for this assignment. The biology teacher, Mrs., Higgins, came to me recently about beefing up an assignment that she has done in the past. She had created a writing assignment on the stem cell controversy that she has used before. Students had to take a stance on whether they believed embryonic stem cells should be used for research, or if they thought the use of adult stem cells was sufficient. She was happy with the idea of the product where students wrote a letter or a speech defending their stance. It was the research part that she felt needed some help. She was pleased with the pathfinders that I have created for her lessons, and she thought it would work well in this situation, too., Together we came up with a set of questions for the pathfinder. Then I set to work.

I used Livebinders because they are the best tool when you want to include links to audio, video, and database articles as well as embed documents or files.  The layout makes it easy to create and easy for the students to use. I posted the assignment and rubric that the teacher created, the pathfinder that I created, the article from Gale that the teacher wanted everyone to read, the video that she wanted everyone to watch and the additional print and video that I found that would help the students answer the questions on the pathfinder. Our goal was for the students to use the completed pathfinder as the ammunition that they would need to defend their stance. The students would complete this work in the two days that the teacher would be away at a conference. Unfortunately, the school was having major Internet issues those days, and the Livebinder did not always load, nor were the videos that were embedded load for viewing. It was quite frustrating because with this tool they would have all the resources that they needed to find the evidence supporting their stance.

In the end I think that most of them were able to complete the assignment in the allotted time, but I was at loss to help them when their emails came in telling me that they couldn't open the Livebinder. There really was no backup plan, and I guess that if we were truly desperate, we could have photo-copied all of the the articles from the database hat I had embedded in the Livebinder. Open here to find the Livebinder that I created for the stem cell project.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Spreading the Word about in the Classroom

my blog post is here

New tech tools are great, and when launched several years ago, several of the teachers in my building began to use it with their students. We had some success and failure with this tool used to create infographics, so I reached out to them through twitter. We have kept up a relationship ever since, and this past year I became an ambassador with They asked if I would write a post for their blog on the use of their tool in  the classroom. Click here to read the post that I wrote for them

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Students Create a Quiz with Flippity

Example of the Flippity game board the student's made

At the beginning of the semester, I read this post describing how to create a Jeopardy-like quiz game using a Google spreadsheet and Flippity. I thought this would work really well with a social studies class. I approached Mrs.Hampton, who is teaching 6th grade world history this semester, to see if she wanted to try using this tool with the students to make a quiz. We really wanted the kids themselves to create the questions, so we knew that we had to wait until she had taught them several units before they would have enough knowledge to create the questions for the quiz. We also decided to make the categories of art and architecture, family life, land forms and climate, religion, rulers, and science and medicine rather than the categories by country so that it would not matter how far into the textbook she taught before the planned activity. The students could ask questions about Mesopotamia, Egypt, or India. The logistics for this took some planning. At first we thought that the students would write the questions on paper, and I would type the text into the Google spreadsheet. As I thought about it, I realized that this would have been silly. The students should be typing the questions. I had a concern that the students would somehow ruin the template by making a serious mistake when typing, but we came up with a plan that in the end worked very well. 

The teacher divided the students in each class into six groups of four students. Each student in the group had a textbook  In each group there was a recorder who wrote down the questions, and a typist who typed the questions into the spreadsheet. As the group created their questions, the teacher and I moved from group to group approving each question or offering suggestions on how to improve a question. The students had the freedom to decide how many points each question would be worth. Once the questions were approved, the typist could get to work on adding their questions to the spreadsheet. The students did make some spelling and grammatical errors. I just went back and tried to fix the errors, but in the end, even I missed some of them. 

Using the textbook to create questions

We spent almost an hour on developing the questions for the quiz. Then two days later we played the game which also took about an hour. Since the teacher had two classes, first period played the board created by second period and vice versa. When the groups began to play, we gave them the following rules: one person in each group would be the spokesperson; the group could not choose a question from the category in which they wrote questions; only one group would have a chance to answer any one question; and the winning group would win a small prize. That meant that every group had the opportunity to answer 5 questions. We gave them about 20 seconds to confer, but we were not hard and fast with that rule. Since it was such a successful activity, we decided to do it again when the students need to review for the final exam. 

Game board with question

Technically, this was not a library-related activity, but I found the tech tool, and I was happy to work with the teacher and the students to make the activity happen. The library being a bit roomier than the classroom made it easy for us to move about as the students worked in groups. Would the teacher have done it without me? Maybe, but collaboration is collaboration no matter what form that it takes. My job is to be there as a resource, and in this case, it worked quite well. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Collaboration Takes Many Different Forms

I have been talking lately about the different types of collaboration that I do with my teachers. This collaboration can be formal, informal, planned or done at the last minute. I like that each day is different for me and that I can be in a science class one day and a social studies class the next. Last week a science teacher visited me during her off period which was at the beginning of the day. She wanted her 8th grade Earth science students to depict geologic time periods in an infographic. Almost all the students would  be using, which I have talked about before here. They were working in groups of four and had to include about 12 pictures of fossils and were also asked to create some sort of timeline to illustrate the geologic eras. 

I promised the teacher that I would visit all of her classes and spend a portion of the period helping her students. This is the type of collaboration that I call the Second Person in the Room. I did not plan with her on the lesson nor did I help her design the lesson, but she felt that she needed some back up with the use of the technology tools. That is something that I can do with ease. Most of the students were familiar with as they had been introduced to it in sixth grade. I wasn't really needed for that. It was critical that the students list citations for information and pictures that they used. They would not be giving the teacher a works cited page but would list the citations on the infographic itself. Our school has purchased Encyclopedia Britannica Image Quest for students to find pictures for class projects. It is easy to get the citation for any picture that you use. If all the students used Image Quest, the infographics would start looking alike with the same exact pictures. I suggested that the students use Photos for Class. There are millions of searchable high quality photos there, and the best part is when you download a photo, Photos for Class automatically adds the attribution at the bottom of the photo. Way cool and way easy for the students. Most of the photos found there are from Flickr with a creative commons license. 

Creating a timeline easily was another issue. Infogram has a chart and graph feature, and some of the students created their timeline as a one bar graph adding the data for the timeline in the graph function within Infogram. Others were trying to use, but it was not designed to illustrate millions of years. Then I put an all call out on Google + to see if someone had found an online solution for creating a timeline depicting such large amounts of time. I got some answers but none of them were going to really work for inserting within the infographic. Suggested tools: Knight Lab, Meograph, Prezi, Read Write Think, and Tiki-toki,  The coolest site that someone shared was Chronozoom from UC Berkeley. It felt a little bit out of my league, but the idea of browsing through time rather than looking at it in small bits allows you to look at pre-history in a new way. 

I think that the teacher was happy with the students' products, and I was glad to help. We still need to come up with a satisfactory solution for making an accurate timeline, but I imagine that will happen eventually. 

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