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. 

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