Thursday, May 24, 2012

Last Day of School, Last Author Visit, Sort of

Tuesday was the last day of school, and I scheduled a skype session with an author with the middle school book group, BRiMS, during their last lunch period for the school year. The timing was not very good, but I felt that I had no choice. The week before was BRiMS last meeting for the year, and the kids needed time to get Airborn read for that discussion. I wanted as many kids as possible to read Ice Island in anticipation of the skype with author, Sherry Shahan. So I needed to have some distance between the regular meeting and the skype session, to give the students an opportunity to read both books. Every day for a week I reminded the students of the skype in the daily school announcements. I emailed all the students several reminders. Then on Monday, all the students had to get their end of the year check off sheets signed. I made a point to tell each of the members of BRiMS individually that the skype event was for Tuesday at lunch, and they all assured me that they would be there. 

As you can see by the picture below, the turn out was not as I expected. There are 14 members of BRiMS and all were at school on Tuesday. I need to remind myself not to schedule a library event on the very last day of school next year. I might forget.

Now let me tell you about Sherry Shahan. She has written dozens of books both fiction and non-fiction for middle school students and young adults. Last year, we received a wonderful handmade card from Sherry after one of my high school students wrote a review of her book, Purple Daze

On Tuesday, she was visiting with us to talk to the students about her book, Ice Island. It is set in Alaska, and the story revolves around a girl who would love to have a team of dogs and race in the Iditarod. A short practice run with an Alaskan native turns into a five day fight for survival. Sherry told us what spurred her to write this book. She had traveled to Alaska for her non-fiction book about the Jr. Iditarod and had time to do a bit of traveling to St. Lawrence Island. This trip was the impetus for Ice Island. This is a really good middle school read for kids who like survival stories, dog stories, or action adventure stories. 

Sherry is a wonderful story teller. She also spent some time telling us about her trip hiking Mt Whitney when she was doing research for a magazine article. The hike turned into a nightmare when a lightning storm hit, and there was no where for them to go for protection. Her tale was quite harrowing. She did write an article about the experience, but she also wrote another survival story called Death Mountain based on her experiences. All of us in the room wanted to read that book after she described how she used the facts of her trip up the mountain to write a fictional story. She read from one of the chapters, and I can't wait to get it for the library.

Thank you Sherry. Though I did not have a crowd in the library, the ones who participated loved hearing what you had to say. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Airborn was BRiMS Book for May

On Wednesday, BRiMS, the middle school book group, enjoyed pizza while discussing Kenneth Oppel's book Airborn. I have been so busy reading books with deadlines for reviews that I did not finish the book until Tuesday night. If I had finished the book sooner, I would have known that serving mangoes would have been a more appropriate snack. However, none of the kids complained about the pizza.

We discussed what time period we thought the book came from. The students all felt there were elements of the past and the future. Someone mentioned that the book reminded them of steampunk, and I was surprised that the 6th graders knew that term. I agreed this book definitely has steampunk elements. They also felt that they would want to follow the captain's orders that were given to Matt, but Kate was very persuasive, and they probably would have succumbed to her determination to go back to the forest to find the strange winged mammal. All agreed it was a good story. 

The students did not realize that there are two sequels, and I am going to post some other read-alikes on the BRiMS website. 

This was suppose to be the last BRiMS meeting of the year, but I was offered a skype with an author event that I could not turn down. Next week the group is going to talk with Sherry Shahan who wrote, Ice Island. Now I have to finish reading her book before our scheduled Skype.

Which is more fun, eating pizza in the library or talking about books?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wall of Shame

Every year around this time, I must call in all library book,s and all fines must be paid. I hate this time of year because I have to track down the kids and remind them numerous times that they owe a debt to the library. I know that many librarians have thrown out fines, but I don't think that the kids will return the books without the fines. I don't charge much, and when students owe a lot of money in fines, I often take off part of the fine if the student shows good faith and pays part of what they owe.

I started something a few years ago that I thought would help me get the students to clear their debts quickly. I make a list of students who owe something to the library without listing the actual fees or books that are due. I title the list, Wall of Shame. I send out an announcement of the list to all the teachers, and I post the list on the library door. Most kids want their name off the Wall of Shame, so they get the books they owe back quickly. A few kids think it is an honor to be on the Wall of Shame. Yes, it is a bit silly, but it seems to work with the kids that I work with. Once the kids clear with me, I send them to the list to cross off their name. I do love watching the list shrink. Usually, by the last day of school there are only one or two names left on the list.

Getting the materials back is just one of those jobs that librarians have to do, not a job that librarians want to do.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Making Time to Read and Reading Takes Time

I started a book on April 19th. I know this because I logged it in on Good Reads. I just finished it on Sunday. Whew! I was off for a week during that time. You would think that I could read a young adult book faster than that. I liked the book, but my life got in the way. I will spend lots of my free time reading, but when visitors come in to town, and the festival season starts in New Orleans; it is hard to curl up with a book. When I attended the AASL conference in October, a member of the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults committee told me that she reads a book a day. I love to read, but I want to savor a book, so racing through it in a day will not allow me to enjoy or internalize it at all. I can never remember character names now. If I read a book a day, then reading the book would be useless to me because I would not remember how the book made me feel or allowed the book to get under my skin and change how I think.

Right now I have some reading deadlines looming over me. I have a review for Library Media Connection due on May 20th. Then I have a meeting with my middle school book group on May 16th. Then on May 22nd, the middle school group is going to Skype with an author, and I haven't even bought that book yet. Needless to say, I have just started the book to review, but I will need to read the other two books too.

The students in my high school book group have agreed to review books for the twice monthly online newsletter, SLJ Teen, put out by School Library Journal. Most of the members of the group are sophomores, and they are busy with end of the year school work deadlines. I am nervous that they will not be able to get the reviews to me when I need them. Today during our regular meeting, we discussed what needed to be in each review. They only need to write 250 words or so, but I don't think the writing is the issue. The issue is if they have time to read. They are all reading for the literary analysis due in English class. They have plenty of science to read to finish their Independent Research Projects (IRP). They haven't taken the time to read for pleasure. They have lists of books that they want to read and share with each other, but school work and life is getting in the way.

Should we schedule reading time so that we always take the time stop and read? I believe that reading feeds the soul, and we do need to read for pleasure. Sometimes time is not in our favor.

Want to know what is on my bedside table?
I just finished the Printz Honor Book, Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I liked it a lot and loved the fairy tale quality of it. I am not sure of its appeal to teens, as none of my students have read it yet. I will be interested to find out how some of them like it. I am reading The Exceptionals by Erin Cashman to review in LMC. I am about a third of the way through it, but I can't say what I think until after my review is published. For BRiMS, the middle school group, we are reading Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. The kids who finished it have said that they loved it. Yea!! I picked well. Then the BRiMS skype will be with author Sherry Shahan who wrote Ice Island.

There you have it. I am going to stop now and go back to my book. What are you reading?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rick Riordan Webcast to launch The Serpent's Shadow

On Tuesday, May 1st we joined tens of thousands of students around the world as Rick Riordan broadcast live from the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum to kick off the release of the latest in the Kane Chronicles, The Serpent's Shadow. All of the sixth and seventh graders sat in a classroom with their lunch to enjoy the show. You can see them below. 

As the program started, we had trouble with the sound. The volume would only go up so much and with a room of 80 kids, it was hard for them to concentrate on the show. However, the kids are big fans of Riordan's. About half had read the previous books in the Kane Chronicles series. Probably all of them have read one or more of the books in the Percy Jackson series and/or the Heroes of Olympus series. These books fly off the shelves, and there is always someone in the middle of all his works. I am a big fan of Greek and Roman Mythology, so I have read the Percy Jackson books and the Heroes of Olympus. I have not had time to read the Egyptian mythology inspired Kane Chronicles. Riordan explained that the time period of the Egyptian gods and Greek and Roman gods was roughly the same. At this point in time, he does not plan to write a story where Percy Jackson's world and Carter Kane's world intersect, but you never know. 

Riordan made his way around the museum showing the students various Egyptian artifacts. You can see a mummified monkey in the picture above. He also described what life was like back in the days of the pharaohs in Ancient Egypt. The museum has a tomb, and Riordan took his handheld lamp to show us what it looked like inside. Very cool. 

The webcast event occurred during the lunch period. All the students began the lunch period watching, but after twenty minutes, we gave them the option to stay or go. There was a dedicated group of 18 who decided that they didn't mind the low sound; they wanted to hear what Riordan had to say. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

@Mediajunkie Speaks about Working on the Web

Monday was the first day back from a week long spring break. I know; it is late in the school year for spring break. This is especially true because school in Jefferson Parish ends on May 24th. Having a late break meant more teaching time before those pesky standardized tests. Having this late break also meant that I was off from school and could visit the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival guilt free last Friday.
Enjoying traditional jazz in the Economy Hall tent
New Orleans Jazz Fest April 27th
The Jazz Fest is why I am posting today. My husband and I have friends who live in Palo Alto, CA and who have visited us for the past 20 years to attend Jazz Fest. This is the first time that I decided to ask Christian if he would mind talking to some of my students on his last day in the city. Christian Crumlish has worked in Silicon Valley for many years, and he has had to reinvent himself each time his career takes a different path. I thought that he would have a lot to say to the students at Patrick Taylor. I was right.

Christian had some statistics, like the fact that the dot com industry will need 15,000 workers yearly for the foreseeable future. It is nice to hear that an industry is expanding. He also explained that many of the workers in his field did not get a computer science degree when they graduated from college. Christian thinks it is more important for workers to have good communication skills, the ability to be flexible and the willingness to keep learning new things. He also explained the importance of a digital portfolio. All of the companies that he has worked for expect to see one at a job interview. Kelly Maher, the teacher whose classes attended the talk, always asks her students to create a digital portfolio. It was gratifying to hear that these portfolios are actually used in the real world. He gave the students a list of the various job titles that he has had over the years as well as other job titles in the field. He believes that by the time the students are in the work force those titles will have changed again. Currently, Christian works at Cloudon, a new startup, as a product director. Who knows where he will be in five years. The kids had some questions about programming, but mostly they were soaking his words in.

Then on Tuesday morning as I was driving to school I heard this on NPR. The discussion was the value of a liberal arts degree in today's tough economy. Yes, it is expensive to go to college, but Andy Sheenan, the provost at Wellesley College, says that a liberal arts education that teaches kids lifelong skills of how to think and how to be adaptable in whatever job they end up doing is actually more important now than ever. Hey, isn't that exactly what Christian said that he was looking for when he hires?

Which gets me to 21st century skills and the school wide learning outcomes on which the students at Patrick Taylor are assessed. There is no way that we can prepare our students for the job market that they will face in ten to twenty years. However, we can help the students learn how to communicate, think critically, collaborate effectively with their peers, and use technology appropriately. That is our job. Along the way, they are going to learn some history, science, math, English, foreign language, and art, but the content may be forgotten by the time that they are 25. The 21st century skills are lifelong and can be used to build a successful career and personal life. Guess what? You can't test those skills on those pesky standardized tests.

Christian thanks for coming to PFTSTA and thanks for affirming what we have been saying to parents and students for the last few years.

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