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.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The PFTSTA Library Makerspace Grows

Using the LittleBits

When the library received grant money last school year to begin a makerspace, I chose not to spend all the money at once. I was not sure which items would appeal most to the kids, so I took it slow. Though our school serves students in grades 6-12, it is the middle school students who spend the most time using the makerspace equipment and materials during their lunch period.

The Lego cart
There are class sets of iPads that live in the library, but I needed iPads that stayed in the library and would always be available to use in the makerspace. I bought 5 initially and added 2 more this time around. The iPads are used to watch videos detailing projects that can be constructed with LittleBits. Lego Wedo, or K'Nex or to find instructions for those projects. The tablets can also be used to make stop motion videos. The Sphero robots are powered by an iPad as well as the new Lego Wedo 2.0.

Creation with the 3D pen

I added some items that were additions to materials that we already had. Another Sphero robot was purchased because students would argue over whose turn it was to use one. The motors of the new Lego Wedo do not need to be tethered to a computer to run, and we purchased the 2.0 to use with an iPad (Lego Wedo 2.0 has not arrived because the wrong one was sent). I also bought one more set of Lego bricks and another set of mini-figures (one student was jumping up and down with joy that we would now have historic figures for his Lego creations). We were down to one 3D pen from three, so I ordered a cheaper one to see if that one would not clog. I think that after one week of use it is kaput. So even though the 3D pen appeals to all ages including the high school students, I don't plan to purchase anymore because they just don't last long enough to make the cost worthwhile. I also added a STEAM kit to the LittleBits. I will have to print out the project ideas for this kit, but there are some pretty exciting things that it can do including a self driving vehicle.

A replica of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow
Then I went searching for some new items that would intrigue the kids. I had heard about K'Nex but had never seen them in action. I bought several kits and some extra motors. The cool thing about K'Nex is that you can build something huge in half the time and with half the pieces that you can with Lego. The motors are powered by batteries and do not need a computer program to run them, so projects from beginning to end are very fast to create. I wish that I had purchased these last year. The students adore them. Snap Circuits are sets of electronics that can create sound and light in the same vein as LittleBits but are even easier to use and LittleBits are very easy to use. The students had the remote control Snap Circuit car moving in a matter of minutes. The last thing that I added was a Stikbot Studio and extra Stikbots. The studio is quite cheap and so are the additional bots. With the studio and a video camera, the students can create stop motion animated movies. The studio is made out of cardboard and needs to be handled with a little care, but using it is very easy with the Stikbot iPad app. I had a tripod, but I had to purchase an adapter (also very cheap) to attach the iPad to the tripod for filming. I also added a couple of games including the Gravity Maze from ThinkFun which has lots of cool games and Code Master Programming Logic Game.

The additional items have been very popular with students, and I see students who did not touch the materials before now engaged. Engagement is what it is all about. I put together a short two and a half minute video to highlight what the students have been creating in the library.

Watch the video below to get an idea of how a makerspace is envisioned in the PFTSTA Library:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

T. A. Barron Pays a Visit

Many months ago, I received an email from Octavia Books asking me if I wanted to host a visit with author T. A. Barron. I had met Barron two years ago when the International Reading Association was held in New Orleans. Penguin held a dinner for him and two other authors, and I got an invite to this intimate gathering. So I knew that my students, as lovers of fantasy, would welcome Barron to our school. They were a wonderful audience, but the visit certainly did not go as planned.

This story is a lesson in the need to be flexible. Initially, our school would see him first, and then he would travel to two other schools before visiting the bookstore at the end of the day. I like morning author visits. Then I got an email asking if we could fit him into the afternoon. I agreed, but I was concerned because he was to arrive at 1:30, and our students leave school at 2:40. He would not have much time to set up and speak and sign books. In the weeks prior to his arrival, I alerted the teachers of all the 7th and 8th graders, publicized the books that we would sell, and asked a student to design a banner welcoming Barron to the school. In the morning of the event, I prepared the stage for his presentation. Then I sat down and began some of the day's other tasks.

At 9:30, the office calls to tell me that the author has arrived. What?????? He was four hours early. Now what do I do?

First, his schedule showed that Barron was to arrive at 9:30. Uh, oh, the publicist made a mistake. Surprising since there were a million emails back and forth between her and the bookstore and me. I knew his driver because she has delivered many authors to our school. The three of us put our heads together to make a plan. If they left, we would not see him again because our school is 30 minutes from the other schools and the bookstore. I jumped into action to make sure my students met the author. The stage was set up, so I got him started getting his computer set up. I grabbed a microphone, bookmarks, and my camera. Then I wrote a frantic email to all the teachers and sent some students and a clerk to all the classes to alert them to the change in plans. The teachers rallied. In about 15 minutes after his arrival, he began his talk.

I was most concerned about the books that students had ordered to get signed. They were not going to arrive at school until 1:30. With some quick thinking, I came up with a plan. I want my students who buy books to have a chance to talk to the author individually. I had a stack of bookmarks with illustrations from Barron's many books. I gave each student who purchased a book, a bookmark to be signed by the author. That problem was solved. After school, I high tailed it to the bookstore with forms and money. Barron was able to sign all the books which I then delivered to the students today.

At the end of the day everything worked out for the students at PFTSTA. Barron was most impressed at our ability to make it happen, and his presentation really made an impression on the kids who now want to read his books. I do feel bad for the school who thought he would arrive at 9:30 because that visit was cancelled.

I want to thank Barron for his visit and Penguin Teen and Veronica at Octavia Books who made it all happen. You can see more pictures of the day on the library website here.

T. A. Barron and I at the end of the event

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Middle School Students Write Letters to the Next President - a Collaborative Lesson

A few months ago I found a website where students could post a letter expressing their opinions about how the next president should deal with issues plaguing American society. I shared the link with our English and Social Studies departments. I regularly send out links and websites of interest to my teachers, and sometimes I get a response sometimes not. In this case one of our middle school teachers of English language arts new to our school said that she wanted me to work with her on a lesson around the Letters to the President 2.0. We batted around some ideas back and forth through email--face to face collaboration is nice but not always possible. She talked with her classes about the issues and the election on many occasions as preparation and asked her students to watch the debates and comment on them for extra credit.

Planning and executing the lesson:
We finally decided that students would weigh in on three different issues that we would select for them including immigration, student college debt, and racial inequality. I would put together resources that the students would read to find concrete details to use in their letters. In the meantime, I had to book a formal observation for my principal and decided to use this lesson for that. I needed to make this perfect. I wanted to start with a video. Sometimes I have spent way too many hours trying to find just the right video, but I found something that I loved in less than ten minutes. CNN had done a number of pieces with teens and the issues of the election. I thought the #tooyoungtovote video would be highly engaging for our students. Then I selected some magazine articles and newspaper articles that I found on the Gale databases as well as a couple of websites for each topic. During the presentation of the lesson, I asked many questions allowing students to use higher order thinking in their replies. Each student was required to add a comment in the padlet that I created for the lesson. That was my assessment piece that I needed. While the students were reading, taking notes, and writing, I asked if any of them wanted me to film them speaking out on #tooyoungtovote like the teens in the CNN video. Not many choose to do it, but the result was wonderful. 

Below is the presentation that I used for the lesson:
(includes link to CNN video, resources for the students to use for each of the three topics, links to the Padlets where the students posted their thoughts, and a rubric for the letter.)

Below is the video that I created using for the students speaking out on the issues: #tooyoungtovote

When my principal walked out after the lesson, I asked her what she thought. She said it was one of the best lessons that she has seen me do. She loved the whole thing but really liked the idea of capturing the students opinions on video. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Visit with Mark Alpert Via Skype and Solving Tech Issues

Bookmarked Jr. Edition had a skype planned for November 2nd with author, Mark Alpert. Alpert requested that I do a test with him the day before to make sure everything was working. On the 1st, students had the day off, but teachers were at school. About 30 minutes before the appointed test skype, I booted up my laptop to open skype. There was an error message, and so I went to I. T. for a fix but found it closed. Since I couldn't use skype on the laptop, I grabbed my ipad and plugged it into the interactive white board to call Alpert. The audio was good on both sides as well as the video. We chatted a bit about the students and his books. I knew that the 8th graders were going to find his interests in science and the way he melds it into his science fiction fascinating.

On the 2nd, I found out that I could use skype on the laptop, but I had to type in the password for the school system's filter to access it. I set up my laptop in the usual way ten minutes before our scheduled skype, but the computer would not access the camera and microphone that I plugged into it. That caused audio issues when we finally connected. He couldn't hear us. Then I tried to hook up my iPhone for the skype because I could put it on a tripod, and the phone's camera could pick up all the students. We couldn't hear him while using the iPhone. Finally, I grabbed my iPad and leaned it up against the laptop as you can see in the pictures. We had done the test with the iPad and all worked, and I should have known to try it from the beginning. We lost about 10 to 15 minutes of our scheduled session, but he stayed on the call for longer than planned, and I held the students in here to finish the discussion.

In the end, it was a success, and technology is an awesome way to connect with the world. Yet, you do need to be prepared for something to go wrong. Always have a back up plan.

The 8th grade book group is mostly boys, and so Alpert was the perfect choice for the skype. He has a real passion for science and uses it through his fiction to entertain. He tries to base all his scientific claims in his fictional work on real science. When you get to the essence of the story it is not really about robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI). It really is a case of the morality of making changes to humans using machines and prolonging life with machines. Really, what defines a person? What is a person's identity? The pioneers in his book have had all their thoughts downloaded into a machine. Are the pioneers the same as when they were human teenagers or are they a copy? Are you your brain or are you your body? In the book, Alpert made a very conscious decision to make the voice of his main character, Adam, be the same from human to robot. Adam's father is thrilled to still have his son no matter what his body looks like, but his mother finds it repulsive. For her, without the body, her child was gone. Though the group certainly did not have answers and neither did Alpert, the students' focus during the skype session illustrated to me that Alpert's ideas were definitely food for thought. and made for a really good discussion. Find more pictures and details about the skype here on the library website. Thank you Source Books for making this event possible. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Louisiana Book Festival 2016

Last year, I had planned to take members of Bookmarked to Baton Rouge for the annual book festival. The predicted rain storms kept us away which was a good thing because the festival closed early due to the rain, and the book tents had ankle deep water. For 2016, I again planned a trip to Baton Rouge for the festival, and the day was glorious with sunshine and warmth.

Cooking Demonstration Tent 
Four students met me on the steps of the State Library of Louisiana to begin our day. We started in the cooking demonstration tent where Shelly Rushing Tomlinson was reading a story from her cookbook. She is a humorist, but I don't think her funny family stories were appreciated by the teens. They did eat her crackers and pimento cheese, though. 

Susan Vaught and Rita Williams-Garcia
 Next we went to hear authors Susan Vaught and Rita Williams-Garcia. This was so cool. We walked into an almost empty room where Susan was sitting and waiting to begin. When she started, it was like we were getting a very personal presentation. Rita Williams-Garcia walked in a few minutes after the start time, and a few others filled the seats of the audience. Both authors were talking about their books that were set back in time and could be considered historical fiction. However, the stories were personal to their own childhood. Vaught lived in Oxford during the Meredith Riot at Ole Miss in 1962, and she had family who worked at the university. Williams-Garcia's mother was a member of the Black Panther Party in the 60's. Both women felt that they could tell the stories best because of their personal connections to the place and time. Though many writers will conduct hours of research for their fictional work, in the case of these two authors, they actually lived it. 

Williams-Garcia and Vaught

Two things about this panel made it fascinating to me. One was the idea of the story within the story that both authors used in their work. In both cases, the authors needed to write much of the fictional work that is referenced in their book. In the case of Vaught, her main character had written a book that had won the Pulitzer Prize which put much pressure on her to carefully construct the excerpts included at the beginning of each chapter of Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry. The discussion at the end about what constitutes historical fiction was also very interesting to me. Some in the audience thought a book would need to be about time before and up to World War II. One of my students thought anything written about a time before September 11, 2001 was historical fiction. There is certainly no hard and fast rule, but I am curious how other librarians view works in the genre of historical fiction and appropriate dates. 

We took time off to buy books to get signed, eat lunch, and sit down under a shady tree for a rest. 

Tessa Gratton and J. L. Mulvihill
The panel we attended after lunch panel included authors Tessa Gratton and J. L. Mulvihill. I had seen Gratton when she visited the book festival two years ago. She even remembered me and that was very cool. I am very familiar with Gratton's fantasy work, but not with Mulvhill's. They both talked a lot about world building, and the importance of knowing how a character would behave in the world before beginning to write the story. Gratton is planning a new book right now and doesn't think that she will be able to actually begin the book for 18 more months. Mulvihill still has a day job as a paralegal. She must set aside specific time in her day to think and write because she must stay focused at work. Both authors were very personable and engaged in conversations with me and my students after the panel discussion. 

As we walked around the festival grounds, we spotted many teens wearing a shirt that said, "Books Make Muggles into Wizards." On the sleeve was a thunder bolt with THS Library. We found out that the library club at Thibodaux High School made the shirts. I am sorry that I did not get a picture of thet shirts to share. I didn't know this is a common saying that my students had seen before. It gave us some ideas about shirts that we should create for Bookmarked. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Book Fair and Teen Read Week are Both a Memory

 2016 Book Fair
I really did myself in by planning a book fair one week and Teen Read Week the next. Unfortunately, both weeks were out of my control. We now schedule the book fair during the two days that the grandparents visit the school for breakfast. This has proven very lucrative for the library, and I like promoting a fund raiser that promotes books and reading. The grandparents like buying books for their grandchildren. It is a win win situation. This year we grossed $300 more than last at the book fair, and the library received a net profit of $1500 plus just over $300 in Scholastic dollars to spend on new books for the library. This is the only fund raiser that the library holds during the year. I also raise a few hundred dollars a year in fines which I strongly believe in. More on fines at a later date.

I always try to schedule Teen Read Week (TRW) during the week that YALSA has it on the calendar. I know that really isn't crucial, but it is what I like to do. Most of the TRW activities take place during the lunch periods. After the switch last year to three lunches, I had to rethink my planning. Actually, what I needed to do was simplify. With two lunches, the high school students could supervise and monitor my many games. Now I tap the older students to help me plan, but I am the one who has to take control of all the activities. That is not an issue if I only have one thing going on each day. 

Librarian, Natalie Juneau, vists from Jefferson Public Library

I think that it was very successful this year. I scheduled a public librarian to come and give book talks. All three of her sessions were well attended. My students tend to be public library users and almost all said that they had library cards. We always watch an episode of the Twilight Zone that fits the theme of TRW. Since the theme was Read for the fun of it, I wanted to find a funny episode. I chose one with black humor, and the tweens through the teens just loved "Escape Clause." We had some good discussion about the episode after all three showings. I think that this episode was beloved by more students than other one that I have shown during TRW. One student returned the next day telling me she went home and watched more episodes. She had heard of it, but never seen it before. We always play a guessing game based on books and movies as well as a craft. Daily, I had 25 to 35 students during 6th and 7th grade lunch, the same for high school, and about 10 to 15 during 8th grade lunch. That is not bad in a school of 600. Also, some students saved some money on fines, as we always have fine forgiveness week during TRW. I am still waiting on entry forms for our annual bookmark contest. The prizes for that contest are $20 Barnes and Noble gift cards. Though I might not get many entries, I always get some outstanding illustrations. 

Waiting patiently to play the guessing game

Transforming Ninja Star

You can see more pictures of the week on the library website here. As soon as the bookmark contest winners are selected, I will add pictures of the bookmarks on that webpage. During TRW, I like to get students to make some book recommendations. I have posted many of them here on the library website. Hopefully, I can add some more of those pictures next week. The kids liked selecting an appropriate hashtag to put with beloved books. 

2016 Book Recommendations

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Students Weigh in on Banned Books and the Freedom to Read

Every year, for Banned Book Week, I prepare a lesson for our 8th graders. It was always teacher directed with discussion until last year. The English I teachers and I created a lesson for the students that included research and writing. I pulled the materials that I wanted them to read, and the students would write a very short essay declaring their belief in the need for teens to be able to exercise their freedom to read what they want to or the need for certain books to be taken off the shelves of the library or pulled from the English curriculum. 

Above is the slide presentation that I have made for the students. Included in the slides are several videos that I thought would get the students thinking. There are slides with links to specific articles that we want the students to read and use for the concrete evidence to support their stance. A rubric is included at the end so the students know exactly what is expected. The teachers and I want the writing to have a real world application. We ask the students to post their short essay as comments to this blog post. Please feel free to place your own comment among the students. I am sure that they would be interested in having some feedback. 

Dear English I students,

There are many people out there who would like to restrict what books you can read at school. There are also many people out there who believe that the constitution grants you the freedom to read whatever you want. Please decide if you believe either that censorship in school is necessary or that access to books should not be restricted in schools. Use the resources linked in the slide show for your research to back up your beliefs. Write in a paragraph why students should either have the option to read what they want or why schools should keep some books off the shelves of the library or out of the curriculum in English. You will need to support your stance with at least two concrete details. Please follow the rubric and post your paragraph anonymously in the comment section of this blog and follow the directions on how the teachers expect you to sign your paragraph.

Remember you are sharing your comments with the world! Have fun with this. Ms. Kahn

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