Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How Do You Book Group?

Find links to many of the presentations here
On Saturday, I attended a one day professional development sponsored by the Louisiana Association of School Librarians. I really enjoyed it and got some great ideas to use in my library.

For my presentation at this event, I chose to talk about an activity that is relatively low tech. Technology is exciting. I love learning new ways to use it in the library, but I also don't want to concentrate on tech and not spread the word about the merits of reading and finding great books. I have three book groups that I run in my library. The middle school group meets monthly, but the other two groups for older students meet every week. It can be exhausting but also exhilarating. We have had some amazing discussions. I want to tell you now that you don't have to run a book group where every student in the group reads the same book. It can be very freeing once you decide to break the mold of book groups.

Another big aspect of all of my book groups is to have the students connect with authors. Each group has at least one virtual author visit a year. It might be more if the opportunity arises. I also encourage students to attend author presentations that are scheduled around town after school or on the weekends. I have taken students to meet authors at the annual Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, ALA when it is in New Orleans (Annual is here for 2018), local bookstores, and to other schools hosting authors. This to me is a crucial piece to the puzzle of sharing books and reading to the members of my groups. 

My goals for these book groups include: 
1. Getting students excited about a variety of books, genres, and authors
2. Having great discussions, even if they are off the topic of books
3. Having a good time so the members want to attend the meetings
4. Building a community of like-minded students

That really is not so difficult. Sometimes I plan ahead for the meetings like when I have planned a virtual author visit. Sometimes I just wing it with a topic that comes to me right before the meeting is to start. The high school students don't have time to read a book every week, but they love meeting weekly. So we do. With the middle school, we alternate months between all reading the same book with all reading the same genre or theme. It works for us and maybe it could work for you too. 

Here are the slides that I used for my presentation. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Virtual Visit with Cori McCarthy was Wonderful

Today, Bookmarked, the high school book group had the opportunity to chat with YA author Cori McCarthy. She is delightful, and both the students and I were on the edge of our seats drinking in everything that she had to say. Though several of her books piqued our interest, we met today to talk about her contemporary novel, You Were Here. This one she said is the most personal to her. She lost a classmate when she was in 8th grade right before the school year started. The adults told them that his death should not be discussed. All these years later, her emotional connection to this former classmate was the impetus to write the book. 

This book is told in five voices. When she began writing, it was very difficult for her to put words on paper for the character who was mute for most of the story. She decided that his voice would work well in illustrations. She was able to convince her editor to hire an artist to turn his part of the story into a graphic novel. She was thrilled with the results. McCarthy believed that the illustrations did not need to be explained and that her readers were sophisticated enough to be able to follow what was happening. I loved reading some of the voices in text and others in pictorial form. It helped to mark  the different personalities of the five main characters. 

Seeking recovery from loss is one of the major themes of this book, and the characters engage in some very risky behavior that is called Urban Exploration to find redemption. McCarthy explains that she was hesitant to put real places in the book in fear that readers would seek out these abandoned man-made structures and possibly be harmed. Some of the sites mentioned in the book did once exist but are now gone like the amusement park. Others like the mental health facility was a place that she explored when she was in college. She did describe how students could go urban exploring right in their own home by visiting youtube or following Abandoned America on Instagram

Though McCarthy claims to be introverted and that early in her career she had difficulty connecting with other people, especially those in the arts. Her presentation to us did not reflect any apprehension  with socializing with people that you do not know. She was upbeat, answered all the questions that the students posed, and was extremely gracious. This was a five star virtual visit. We want to thank Cori for spending time with us today and her publisher, Source Books, for making it happen. You can find more pictures of this visit on the library website

Traditionally, after every virtual visit and before signing off, I have the students stand by the screen and get a picture of them standing "with the author". For some reason today, I totally forgot to do that, and now I am kicking myself. I can't believe that I didn't capture that picture. Those are some of my most favorite pictures in the library. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

If You Build a Green Screen, They Will Come

In November, I decided to add some new items to the library makerspace. I dedicated $350 to buy materials and games that we did not already own. Everything would be new not just more Lego or more K'Nex. While I was in the process of compiling my list of items to purchase, everything I bought on Amazon, I was following tweets from the AASL (American Association of School Librarians) conference in Phoenix. I was intrigued by the session on green screens from prominent librarians Michele Luhtala, Jane Lofton, and Deb Schiano. I looked at their Google slides and realized that my students would really love trying out a green screen. These librarians inspired me to order the green screen with my new makerspace items. Open here for a link to the slide show they used in their session at AASL maybe it will inspire you, too. Then I attended the LACUE (Louisiana Association of Computer Using Educators) conference and went to a session on green screens with
Janet Corder and Joan Gore where I got to see the screens in action. By the time that I went to LACUE, I had already ordered my $100 green screen. This session was just what I needed to get started. 

Open here for link to item on Amazon
When the green screen arrived, I was taken aback by its size. It was huge. I had no clue where it could go. For about 10 minutes, I had it in a corner by the study carrels that I realized would never work. Then I moved it in front of the magazine rack. (When we moved into this building in 2013, they built me a beautiful and very large wooden magazine display rack. It was obsolete the day we moved in. Though, I have been using it to display those over-sized, coffee table types of books.) I set it up one day during a lunch period with student help and then left it. 

The very next day some 6th graders started taking pictures with their phones. They didn't say anything to me as they just got to it. I had downloaded both of the Do Ink apps (cost $) to the library iPads, so I was wondering what app they were using. (We have had Stikbots (app is free) in the library for a couple of years. Stikbots have a mini green screen that is made out of cardboard.) The students were using the Stikbot app with our green screen to make their still photos. It was so easy to use. I put up the screen, and they began using it without any introduction. Amazing. 

The students only made still shots, no video. They were working during the lunch period, and it gets very noisy in the library. It would be impossible to do video at that time. That gave me the idea to start a green screen club for them. I have a list of interested students. We have had three days unexpectedly off from school due to inclement weather. I have not been able to get the club off the ground. We will meet weekly for four weeks, and I will pull them from PE. Their task will be to make a 2 to 3 minute video with the green screen. I can't wait to get started and show you their creativity. By the way, I am so glad that I got a big screen. The students want to take pictures of 4 or 5 people at a time. That just wouldn't be possible with a smaller screen. Also, you need a large section  of fabric on the floor, and the size that I bought works perfectly. It also comes with lights which we have not put together and used yet. When I ordered it, I bought extra clips so that we could make the fabric as taut as possible.

Let me know how you have used a green screen with your students. I am fascinated by this technology. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Virtual Visit with Author Jodi Lynn Anderson

In July of 2017, I served as moderator on a panel of four authors at a local bookstore. It was great fun, and I used the opportunity to ask all of the authors if they would be willing to schedule a virtual visit with one of my book groups some time. I think that all of them said they would, but I was such a fan of Midnight at the Electric that I choose to schedule Jodi Lynn Anderson with the 8th/9th grade book group, Bookmarked Jr. Edition. I will save the other three for another school year. 

Bookmarked Jr. Edition meets at lunch

Though she was very willing, it took some work to make it happen. First, I scheduled the visit in November, but then I forgot, and the day before I realized that I hadn't prepared the students and asked them to read her book. She was happy to reschedule, but had to do it in January once the holidays were over. Then school started late after the holidays due to a day off due to bad weather. Then, we had to scrap using Skype because the district can't decide whether it should be allowed or it should be blocked. On January 10th, we did have a virtual visit with Anderson, but we used Apple's Face time to make it happen. 

Just so you know, if you use Face time, you are either using it over wifi like we did with an iPad or you are using your phone's data. Face time does not use minutes on your phone, so you can make Face time calls internationally without costing an arm and a leg. We have a virtual visit planned for February with an author who lives in Ireland. I did a test today, and it will work fine for that visit. 

First, Anderson discussed how she got into publishing before becoming a writer herself and then about her first experiences as a writer. Finally, she gave us some specifics about Midnight at the Electric when she responded to the students' questions. As a writer she wants to find magic, not the magic that characters can do like in Harry Potter but the magic of a story. With this book, she decided on electricity as a theme throughout the three stories that are told as she needed a connecting force. Also, she believes there is some magic in electricity.The tortoise serves to connect the three stories as well because she wanted a living creature to help glue them together.  She also likes to write characters who are hard to love. Audry, the girl who is slated to travel to Mars certainly is prickly, but she learns to warm up to her elderly relative, Lily. 

Student walks up to microphone to ask a question

Anderson explained that writing a book is like putting a puzzle together. She starts with the pictures in her mind, and then writes a detailed outline. In this book with three separate story lines from three different time periods, some of those puzzle pieces had to be moved several times before the book made sense. She alternated the three stories so that the reader is not reading about the events in chronological order. 

Thank you, Jodi Lynn Anderson, for taking time from your schedule to speak with us. It was a great experience for my students. You can find more pictures from this visit on the library website
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