Tuesday, May 27, 2014

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

Student asks Jewell P. Rhodes a question

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 26, 2014

Marr and Armstrong Share Love of Norse Mythology

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

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

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

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

See how the shield protects your mid-section and organs

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

That shield is pretty cool

The size of the shield helps to protect your body

Showing how the shield can be a weapon

Defending oneself from stabbing

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gayle Forman and Paris

At the party

Teen Day Party is filled with teens and authors 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Invitation to Val/Sal Luncheon

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

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

Me and Lauren 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fund for Teachers Fellowship 2014

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dinner with Penguin Publishers at IRA

Paris, president of Bookmarked, graduates from PFTSTA

The International Reading Association met in New Orleans this past weekend. Unfortunately, I could not attend the conference because I had so much to do for the PFTSTA graduation which was Saturday. I was really sorry to have to miss it; there were some amazing young adult authors there making presentations. However, when I got the invite from Penguin for dinner at Restaurant R'evolution with three authors, I told them I would be there. 

Ruta signed my book
In February of 2013, Ruta Sepetys visited us at PFTSTA. The kids adored her; I adored her, and I couldn't wait to visit with her at dinner on May 10th. Actually, I got to sit next to her and chat throughout the entire dinner service. If you haven't read her book, Out of the Easy, you need to because it is marvelous. Ruta explained some of the impetus for the story came from her work with women on death row. She wondered if someone could turn their life around if they divorced their family. The protagonist, Josie Moraine, is the daughter of a prostitute in a 1950's New Orleans and does just that.

Posing with author, Ruta Sepetys
T. A. Barron, the author of many books on the shelves of the PFTSTA library, talked about his new series about Atlantis. I told him how much the middle school boys love his Merlin books, and that most of the volumes are falling apart. He explained the connections between his various series. I realize that I have some new books to buy to complete those series.

T. A.'s book, Atlantis Rising
Since I have been working at the middle and high levels, I just don't keep up with picture books much anymore. So I was not very familiar with Judy Schachner who was the third author at the event. She was delightful. I loved hearing her story about telling her publisher that she could write as well as draw when she had no clue how to write a children's book. I do miss the warm and fuzzy feeling that picture books give the reader. 

Judy's book, Bits & Pieces

It was a fun evening, and it was great to be included.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Poetry Month in the PFTSTA Library

By the time that April rolls around, I am thinking about the end of the school year, which for us is May 23rd. I love the idea of National Poetry Month, but unless we start planning early, I run out of time for special activities in the library. Book displays are easy In past years, I have sent out a poem a day in an email to all students and staff members. That was always fun trying to find just the right poem to send, but this year, I tried not to feel that I failed when it didn't happen.

Poetry posted on the door to the library
I did plan and execute two activities, one for just the 6th graders and one for the entire student body. Lisa Valence and I have planned many great collaborative lessons over the years, but now that she is only teaching math, we have not figured out how to collaborate very often. She was looking for something fun for the 6th graders to do before spring break. I suggested we do a lesson on poetry and require the students to write poems using math vocabulary. Open here to find the presentation that I created with rubric, list of math vocabulary and website with templates for creating poetry. I started the lesson by reciting math poems that I found on the web because my library collection did not have the types of poems that I was looking for. Then I showed the students where to find the presentation. The students were required to write three poems using this website. We got some great poems from the kids. I realize now that I should have had the kids send me some of their creations so that I could post for you, but trust me when I tell you that some of them were outstanding and all of them showed some creativity. 

Creating a poem on the ETTC website

6th graders working on their math poems in the library

Bookmarked, the high school book group, wanted to continue our tradition of hidden poetry. So I went back to my collections of poems that I have used before and added the new poems sent to me by members of Bookmarked and printed out 45 pages of poetry. On April 23rd after school, five students helped by cutting out the poems, wrapping with a ribbon, and then hiding all over school. We forgot to warn the custodians before we began hiding the poems, and some made their way into the trash. I do think that we hid about 100 poems throughout the whole school. The next day students were allowed to find one poem. Then they needed to bring the poem into the library and read it aloud to me. If they read the poem aloud, I would give them a sweet treat as a prize. I covered the doors of the library with the poems. I know that the activity was successful when two 6th grade boys ran in with their poems saying that we should do this every week.

Students reading their poetry

Next year, I made a promise to myself to plan some activities early so I will be ready for poetry month. 
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