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MinecraftEDU-ing

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My school is welcoming MinecraftEDU to its library media center curriculum.  After getting all the details and kinks ironed out, we were able to introduce it to the six graders.  Suffice it to say, when they walked into the LMC and saw Minecraft on the desktops, they were literally jumping from joy.

I will admit, I have very little knowledge about the Minecraft world and all the fine points in mastering the creation and survival modes.  However, this was not the least bit of a concern with these groups of kids!  It was spectacular to see them working together as a group–creating worlds, building and gathering, cooperating and communicating.  All the student-driven skills that educators strive to see and ‘make happen’ in their classrooms was organically occurring.  And it was all thanks to Minecraft!

Because we rolled it out just a couple weeks before the end of the school year, I was unable to see its full potential.  But, I am already gathering and preparing lessons that can incorporate Minecraft into my curriculum, and with my students, I hope we can create worlds that mirror famous scenes from books.  We can bridge that connection between the gamer world and the literary world.  And with time, I hope we can expand this technology to the other grade levels as well.  Let’s spread the joy!

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Teaching Our Children the Foundations of Research

img_1484For the four grade levels I teach, my current unit for all students is a research project.  I selected four different topics and grouped my students into pairs or threes; they are to conduct proper research and create a Google Slides presentation.  The topics are as follows:

  • Grade 3–origin of a holiday
  • Grade 4–significant person or group in Black History
  • Grade 5–exploration of  a specific science topic
  • Grade 6–background and historical information about a state

In a previous lesson based around plagiarism and bibliographies, I reviewed with all of my students what exactly constitutes plagiarism and how to conduct responsible research.  They also learned how to give credit to their sources through a bibliography.  We are now bringing these learned ideas into practice through this project.  I am allowing my students to explore (with certain guidelines) and create a slideshow presentation reviewing their findings.

For the third and fourth grades, they are asked to use Kidtopia and Infotopia–simply to ensure their search results are safe and appropriate.  For the fifth and sixth grade, they are asked to utilize PebbleGo Next, which our district had purchased in the summer.  This basic database designed for children has ‘science’ and ‘states’ sections, so it works wonderfully with their respective projects.

Of course they are learning about their topics through their research and work, but the skills I want them to truly perfect are responsible research and proper citation.  These are educational building blocks that will stay with them through high school and higher education.  And, within the first day of creating their Google Slideshows, most of my students already have a bibliography slide on which they are posting their resources.  I am happy to see them become responsible students and researchers.

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Elementary Bloggers

During the summer, when I was planning my curriculum for the upcoming school year, I immediately wanted to tackle blogging.  The foundation of everything I do as a school librarian is literacy; what better way to approach this than through a fun tech-based lens?  I wanted to do it across the board–grades three through six.  During my first few minutes of every class, when I introduced blogging to my students and told them they were to create their own blogs, I instantly saw a mix of excitement and trepidation looking back at me.  This in and of itself said it all.  Children want to learn these “adult” technological skills, but may need some guidance to do so.

At first, I wanted to use a website (like WordPress) to streamline the blogging process with my students, but unfortunately, because of “heavy traffic from our server,” they all crashed or froze.  I was disappointed to see that even the education geared blogging websites did not do well when twenty-some-odd students tried to create accounts.  So it was onto plan b!  Since we were a Google district, and all of my students had their own Chromebooks, I decided to simplify things and use Google Sites for our classroom blogging needs.  And although it’s not exactly the aesthetic I was envisioning back in the summer, it is getting the job done and allowing my students to create their blogs.

I plan to have this be something they will revisit time and again for the rest of the school year.  They are starting out slow by completing a creative writing prompt as their first posts, and personalizing “the look” of their blogs.  But in the future, I will ask them to upload their projects and various other works.  The goal is for them to have a “blog portfolio” of sorts in June that they can look back on to see all they’ve accomplished in their library class.

It doesn’t matter what subject area or grade you teach; blogging can be applied and incorporated with every classroom.  Try it out for yourselves!

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Makerspaces in Action: Cardboard Challenge

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When I heard about the Global Cardboard Challenge, I absolutely had to get my school involved!  I felt that this activity would be a wonderful way to get my feet wet with my classes in the makerspace ocean.  The idea is simple but the possibilities are endless–students take recyclable materials (mainly cardboard) and build something from their imagination.  It was a low-cost event that was easy to plan and execute.

I decided to make this a pre-holiday-break event, and about a month before, I began to reach out to the entire school community with a simple flyer and urged students and staff alike to donate cardboard, plastic bottles, egg cartons, tape, glue, etc.  The materials came streaming in and it was amazing to see just how much accumulated in the library media center in the weeks before the Cardboard Challenge.  Everyone from my third graders all the way up to my sixth graders are enjoying sketching out their designs and slowly bringing their creations to life.  As one fifth grade student put it:  “The library class is so much fun!  I have never done anything like this before!”  It is amazing seeing my students tap into their imagination and take ownership of the lesson and their learning.  Watching them testing out different techniques and discussing plans while building is absolutely wonderful.

I have never taken on such a massive makerspace activity, but this will certainly not be the last time!  I urge all of my fellow educators to try this and other makerspace events out.  Let your students take the reins in their own education; you will not be disappointed.

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Computer Science Education Week

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December 5th through the 11th this year is Computer Science Education Week, and I took this opportunity to go through basic coding with some of my 5th and 6th grade classes.  The first couple days have been an absolute success!  My fifth graders created their own emojis (shown in picture above) and coded a basic robot game–both provided by Made By Code (a Google project).  My six graders, who have already been exposed to coding with their classroom teachers, are doing coding for basic games:  Flappy Bird and Star Wars–both provided by Code.org.

It was fun to devote my time with them this week to coding.  I always like to think because of the rapid advance of technology, we are teaching and training our students for careers that don’t even exist yet!  It’s good to get yourself, as an educator, out of your comfort zone, and explore a new facet with your students!  I myself am a complete newbie when it comes to coding, and a couple of my fifth graders were showing me tricks and shortcuts during their robot game coding!  It was amazing to see some of them in their element, and the fact that they were all leaving with a smile on their face, just sweetened the deal!

Hour of Code, in honor of Computer Science Education Week, is and continues to be a success!  When your students do not want to leave your classroom, you know you’re doing something right…

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The Girl on the Train

9780735212169_GirlontheTrain_MTI_MM.inddThis past weekend I went to go see The Girl on the Train.  I was particularly excited because I ran a book club at my previous position and we had read this novel for one of our meetings.  As most readers know, it is exciting to see the story you played in your mind come to life on the big screen.

And I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by what a great job they did at adapting the complex plot and characters for
a film format.  They had to take chunks out of the novel’s story line, but the film did not feel lacking.  As most of you might assume, this tends to be the biggest complaint for page-to-screen movies, but in my opinion, it did not apply here.  I went to the movie theater with a friend who had also read the Paula Hawkins piece and she agreed with me; the movie makers did a fine job at creating this film.

What are some film adaptions of books that you’ve watched?  What were your opinions?  I’d love to see them in the comments below!

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Banned Books Week is coming to a close…

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am only a month into my first ever position as an ELEMENTARY educator.  And as most educators know, at least in the literacy realm, this week is Banned Books Week.  I really wanted to make sure I included this “holiday” into at least some of my classes’ curriculum, so I decided to test the waters with my fourth and six graders (about 200 students), and it went wonderfully!  We started off using Mentimeter, which is a wonderful online instant survey tool–I highly recommend it!  I laid out various banned books onto the tables, but did not tell them why they were there and that they were banned.  My Mentimeter question was “What do all of these books have in common?”  Of course, all of them at once gave me and each other puzzled looks because they couldn’t see a connection between a picture book like And Tango Makes Three and a very popular series like Harry Potter.  I encouraged them to discuss with their groups and get creative with their answers.  The end product was interesting to see because they stated things such as “fiction,” “hard cover,” and “illustrations.”

Once we did that I told them their answers were great, but unfortunately none of them was the one answer I was looking for.  And once again, I got puzzled looks across the board.  When I explained to them that the one major commonality of all of these books was that they were banned, the students immediately started calling out questions and groaning.  I loved it!  This meant they were questioning that idea, and were curious to learn more.

We then segued into it being Banned Books Week and the celebration of literacy and the First Amendment.  Some may think that free speech may be too complicated of an issue for children that are only no more than eleven or twelve years old, but it most certainly was not.  Some classes sparked debates about the validity of banning a book, while others wanted to learn the reasoning behind each banning.  It was such a spectacular moment as an educator to witness.  And I truly couldn’t have been more pleased by how the lessons played out!

To wrap up the lesson, I allowed my students to take “mugshots” to celebrate Banned Books Week, and I had more than enough volunteers.  As you can see (below), they got very creative and had a fun time producing their own representation of what banning a book means to them.  It has been a wonderful week, and I plan on spreading the wealth to the third and fifth graders next year!

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