Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Do Tornadoes Really Twist?

Mrs. Leavoy's class has been busy learning about weather during their science classes.  In order to extend their learning on these topics, we spent the last two library visits looking at some wild weather: tornadoes!

We began our first visit by watching short video clips about tornadoes and storm chasers.  It was interesting to see tornadoes up close, but we all agreed that storm chasing looked like dangerous work!  After watching the videos, we then turned to Do Tornadoes Really Twist?, a nonfiction selection about tornadoes written by Melvin and Gilda Berger.  This nonfiction book was organized as a series of questions and answers.  The organization of the book made it perfect for students to browse through and focus on the questions they believed were most interesting.

Students got to work looking for some tornado facts from our book.

Reading through Do Tornadoes Really Twist?

Once students found an interesting fact, they recorded it on their organizer.  Students made sure to find a great fact to write down because we were later going to share these facts with our classmates.

Finding tornado facts using nonfiction.

Students then illustrated what they would hope to find within their own tornado!

Illustrating tornadoes.
On the class's next library visit, students picked up where they left off.  Many students still needed to finish recording their fact or finalizing their illustration.  While we waited for everyone to finish, other students checked out library books and began reading.

The students then sharpened their public speaking skills by sharing their facts with their classmates.  All students did an excellent job explaining the fact they recorded.

Students shared their tornado facts with their classmates.

Here are the beautiful finished products.  Mrs. Leavoy's class did wonderful work on this short research project!

Tornado research by Logan

Tornado research by Vincent

Tornado research by David

Tornado research by Nick

Tornado research by Jasmine

Tornado research by Hannah

Tornado research by Evan

Here are the students posing with their completed work:

The students with their finished products!

Next week we will be continuing our weather discussion with a very silly story: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Making Friends with Billy Wong

It is no secret that I often use Twitter to learn what is going on in the school library world.  One day this winter, I logged in to Twitter to find that Augusta Scattergood was giving away a few copies of the audiobook version of her newest title, Making Friends with Billy Wong.  I was THRILLED to receive a copy of this audiobook in the mail from Ms. Scattergood just a short time later!  Free books always make for a happy librarian.

The audiobook Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood

Augusta Scattergood has many fans at Pioneer Middle School.  All fifth grade students read Glory Be, another one of her books.  Last year, Mrs. Rice's students took their learning a step further by creating book trailers centered upon the book.  These trailers caught the eye of Ms. Scattergood, who graciously agreed to Skype with our enthusiastic fifth graders. 

Needless to say, I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Making Friends with Billy Wong.  This book did not disappoint!  Much like Glory Be, this selection has heart and humor, all while tackling difficult topics in a gentle and age-appropriate way.

This story centered upon young Azalea, a girl who was sent to care for her Grandmother Clark for the summer.  The summer arrangement gets off to a rocky start because Azalea doesn't know her grandmother well. Azalea also would rather be back with her parents in Texas instead of in the little town of Paris Junction, Arkansas.

Azalea soon meets other children in Paris Junction--a prissy girl, a bully, and Billy Wong, whose family owns the Lucky Foods grocery store in town.  Throughout the story, large topics such as bullying, civil rights, discrimination, poverty, family relationships, and friendships are deftly covered.  Like all of Augusta Scattergood's works, this title addresses tough subjects in a way that will be appealing to younger readers.  Above all, themes of kindness and understanding emerge as main takeaways from this lovely book.

This historical fiction story also introduced me to a portion of our nation's history of which I was not previously aware.  During the late 1940s through the early 1960s, hundreds of Chinese grocery stores flourished within the southern United States.  These stores served a vital need within southern communities, as Chinese grocers stepped in as old plantation commissary stores ceased to exist.  In Making Friends with Billy Wong, Billy's parents own a Chinese grocery store.  Their experiences within the story mirror many of the struggles and triumphs that these grocers and their families would have experienced in the past.

Although the book on its own would still be an amazing read, the audiobook version added richness and depth to the story.  The voices of Azalea and Billy were spot-on and really transported me to the American South in the 1950s (even as I listened to the book in my car near snowy Buffalo, NY!).

There is so much more that I want to say about this book, but I don't want to spoil any surprises.  Making Friends with Billy Wong is sure to be a hit with middle school audiences.  In fact, the book has already been checked out multiple times here at Pioneer Middle School.  Thank you to Augusta Scattergood for generously providing us with a free audiobook copy!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Thunder Boy Jr.

On January 6, 2016, we said goodbye to Mrs. Proudman, as she is leaving Pioneer to pursue other exciting opportunities.  Although we were sad to see Mrs. Proudman leave, it was great to see that her replacement was a familiar face: Mrs. Leavoy!  Wednesday, January 11th was our first library visit with Mrs. Leavoy's new class.  To make the day even better, we welcomed Jasmine to the class as well.

The library received many new books in December, so we wanted to take the opportunity to read some of these newer selections.  We read Thunder Boy Jr., a book by Sherman Alexie.  The main character in this book is Thunder Boy Smith Jr. (yes, this is his real name).  Although he loves his father, he isn't just like him.  He would like to have his own name, one based on something he has done in his own life.  The story goes through many potential new names until just the right name is chosen.  There were many humorous parts to this story!

Our first library visit with Mrs. Leavoy's new class.

Thunder Boy Jr. is a humorous story written by Sherman Alexie.

After reading the story, we discussed the many interesting things that Thunder Boy Jr. had done.  This led to the question of what makes each of us unique.  Each student discussed something that they liked or something they wanted to be known for.

We then took a moment to brainstorm the PERFECT nickname for ourselves based on our own unique interests.  I'm hoping that some of these nicknames will stick.  They are wonderful!

Inspired by Thunder Boy Jr., students created their own new names/nicknames.

After checking out books, students returned to the tables in order to create a self portrait that incorporated their new nickname.  The finished products were amazing!  Here are just a few examples of the finished portraits:

New Nickname: Fish Boy

New Nickname: Crazy Train

New Nickname: Tractor Boy

New Nickname: Slappy

New Nickname: Draw Girl

Next week, Mrs. Leavoy's students are beginning their unit on weather.  We'll be carrying this unit into our library visit with some weather-related activities!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Last Week of 2016

There is always excitement prior to a holiday break.  This December was no exception!  Here are some library highlights from our last week of school for 2016:

1. The fifth grade enrichment groups finished reading and watching The BFG.  We had some great discussions about the similarities and differences between the book and the movie.  Even though the movie contained some hilarious scenes, most of us believed that the book was better!  The enrichment students from Mrs. Kamats and Mrs. Kline's classes looked through some potential book picks for after the break.  As a group, they decided that we would read Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk.  Students were intrigued by this historical fiction book that involves bullying.  It will be exciting to start a new book together!

2. Mrs. Izzo and Mrs. Kleinschmidt spent three days in the library to kick off their nonfiction unit.  On Monday we began with a nonfiction speedbooking activity.  Through this activity, students received time to visit with many of the different nonfiction books available in the library.  We then talked about call numbers and reviewed strategies for locating library books.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the classes returned in order to take an in-depth look into text features found in nonfiction materials.  Using a wonderful nonfiction series about dogs, students teamed up to locate information using the title page, table of contents, glossary, and index.  In addition to learning about nonfiction text features, we also learned many interesting facts about dog breeds.

Students used dog books to study nonfiction text features.

Students worked together to locate interesting facts.

3. This Wednesday's Maker Club session included some special offerings.  Mrs. Marriott from the Erie Catt Teacher Center dropped by to visit with our club.  Mr. Guzzetta also came to the library to share a motor from his dryer at home.  The motor no longer works, so he thought it would be interesting to take it apart to see what it looks like inside.  It was interesting to see all of the moving parts that go into a motor.  We'll be certain to take more items apart in the future!  We also had a chance to test drive the Dash Robots from Wonder Workshop.  These robots can be programmed using an app called Blockly.  Various groups of students worked through the puzzles on Blockly to understand how block coding can be used to command the Dash Robot.

Using Blockly to program Dash.

Learning to program takes perseverance.  

The LEGO Mindstorms always make an appearance in Maker Club!

4. Mrs. Proudman's students were extremely busy this week, but still made time to visit the library.  We read a beautiful book called A Winter Place by Ruth Yaffe Radin.  This book included beautiful illustrations of the countryside during winter.  The characters within the book were engaged in many wintertime activities.

A Winter Place by Ruth Yaffe Radin.

We then worked on a craft inspired by the wintertime activities depicted in the book.  Using a template and popsicle sticks, students decorated wintertime skiers.  These could be perfect decorations for a holiday dinner table!

Materials needed to make the skiers.

Decorating the skiers.

The finished product!

5.  Last but not least, the library received a HUGE shipment of 237 new books.  Many of these books included student recommendations or the latest installments of popular series.  These books were ready for checkout prior to our winter recess. 

The new books have been getting checked out before break.

When we return to school in 2017, we will be off to a running start with classes.  The week off will be a nice time to rest, recharge, and READ!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

LEGO League 2016

This year marked Pioneer Middle School's third appearance in the FIRST LEGO League Tournament.  Although it is a scramble to prepare for a rigorous competition in a relatively short period of time, Pioneer Middle School students are up for the challenge!  This year's teams had an extremely successful season.

On Saturday, November 19th, 2016, two teams comprised of fifth through eighth grade students from Pioneer Middle School participated in the FIRST LEGO League Competition at Houghton College.  This competition involved more than just LEGOs!  The teams presented a science project, programmed a Lego robot, and tackled team building challenges.  

FIRST LEGO League members work on the robot during the competition at Houghton College.

The members of the Pioneer Green Team studied ways to prevent Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer populations.  This team received the Core Values Award, a distinction reserved for the team that appropriately displays teamwork, professionalism, and respect during the course of the competition.

A member of the Pioneer Green Team explains CWD to a visitor.

We are proud of the Pioneer Green Team!

The Pioneer White Team looked for ways to help stray animal populations in the Western New York area.  The project they formulated was named "Dogs for Detainees."  Their idea paired stray animals with people housed in federal detention facilities.  This would help give stray animals a home, while providing hope and companionship to those living in detention facilities.

The Pioneer White team advances to the Championship Event!

The Pioneer White Team was one of only five teams in our area earning the honor to represent the Southern Tier at the Championship Event at the University of Rochester.  This competition took place on Sunday, December 11, 2016.

Members of the Pioneer White Team compete at the University of Rochester.

There were 40 teams in attendance for the championships.

The 2016 Pioneer White Team.

Although the Pioneer White Team did not receive an award at the Championship Event, it was still a highly successful day.  The team members did a great job displaying their knowledge, working together, and helping others.  We are proud of all of the students involved in our FIRST LEGO League teams!

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Mitten

It was a wintry week here in the Western New York area!  We had two hour school delays due to bitter temperatures, icy roads, and blowing snow.

In weather such as this, it is best to be prepared.  When Mrs. Proudman's class visited the library this week, we talked about the importance of dressing appropriately for winter.  Students generated some great winter clothing ideas: mittens, coats, scarves, and boots are essential for this time of year.

The wintry talk also gave us the perfect opportunity to read one of our favorite books, The Mitten by Jan Brett.  Although this is a book we read together every year, the story never seems to get old.  Mrs. Proudman's class loves hearing about the many animals that are able to burrow inside of a seemingly magical mitten.  It is a challenge to keep track of the large number of creatures that end up inside the mitten.

After book selection, students had an opportunity to illustrate their own mitten.  They chose the types of items they would want to find inside a mitten.  I thought some of the items were funny, while others were a bit frightening!

Hannah drew a variety of animals inside her mitten.

Vincent added a skull and bones inside his mitten.

David drew a cow inside his mitten.

Evan filled his mitten with snakes.

Logan drew many creatures inside his mitten, including Scooby-Doo!

It is clear that we will not be seeing warm weather in our area for a long time.  Fortunately, this makes winter a perfect time to curl up with a great book!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Global Read Aloud 2016

This fall was an exciting time in our library!  We had many classes participate in The Global Read Aloud.  This is a movement designed to have students around the globe read the same book at the same time.  There were a handful of designated Global Read Aloud books designed for different ages, interests, and reading level (the titles change each year).  By reading the same story, students have the opportunity to connect with other students around the world.  The reading groups at Pioneer Middle School used a variety of methods to share their experiences with students in other areas.

Here are some highlights from the participating classes:

Mrs. Proudman's Class - Lauren Castillo Book Study
Mrs. Proudman's students are frequent library customers!  We spent six weeks on the Global Read Aloud by reading the books of Lauren Castillo.  Ms. Castillo is both an author and an illustrator.  The class looked at six different Lauren Castillo books, including Twenty Yawns, Nana in the City, and City Cat.

Mrs. Proudman's class (and me!) posing with our homemade hats inspired by the book The Troublemaker.

The students used Padlet, an online sharing tool, to connect with Mrs. Jerabek's students in Carol Stream, Illinois.  Using Padlet, students posted "About Me" documents which gave us some insight into the students that were reading along with us.  It was especially interesting to learn about the different foods that Mrs. Jerabek's students enjoy!

A peek at the Padlet page we used to communicate with Mrs. Jerabek's class.

In addition to using Padlet, students also took the time to share information about our area and their own thoughts about the books by sending each other friendly letters.

Students were eager to write letters for their pen pals.

Mrs. Leavoy's Sixth Grade ELA Class - Book Study of The BFG by Roald Dahl
Mrs. Leavoy's sixth grade ELA students were so excited to read The BFG!  Their enthusiasm was contagious.  Much like Mrs. Proudman's group, these students used Padlet and wrote letters to communicate with other classes.  They were able to connect with Ms. Yandell's class in Wichita Falls, Texas and students at the Algonquin Public School in Woodstock, Ontario.

Mrs. Leavoy's class read The BFG for The Global Read Aloud.

At the beginning of The Global Read Aloud, students posed for pictures around the Pioneer campus.  These pictures, as well as personal book recommendations from each student, were compiled as a welcome video.  The video was shared with other classrooms reading The BFG.

Students also communicated with Ms. Yandell's class via a Skype visit.  This was a fun and interactive way to speak with other students about the book!

Mrs. Leavoy's students Skype with a classroom from Texas.

Mrs. Asquith's Fifth Grade Enrichment Group - Book Study of The BFG by Roald Dahl
 I was approached by our school's administrators about offering an enrichment option for select fifth grade students.  I could think of no better project than The Global Read Aloud!  This class enjoyed the audiobook version of The BFG and communicated with Mrs. Jenkins' students in St. Augustine, FL.  At the beginning of the book study, the students used items in our library makerspace to make gifts for Mrs. Jenkins' students.

Mrs. Asquith's enrichment students with their homemade gifts for our partner class.

Students shared information about our school and community.

Mrs. Asquith's group used Padlet and Skype to communicate with the St. Augustine classroom.  One item the students shared via Padlet was their own illustrated "dream jars" inspired by the plot of The BFG.

Working on "dream jar" illustrations.
An example of a completed dream jar.

The students also had the opportunity to participate in a Google Hangout session with a class in a mystery location!  After asking yes or no questions and getting some help from an atlas, our students discovered that they were speaking with a class from Ontario, Canada.  They shared some information about what life is like in Canada.

Participating in a "Mystery Google Hangout" session.
Students used an atlas to hone in on the other school's location.
Since Mrs. Asquith's group only meets for enrichment on two days out of a six day rotation, we are a bit behind!  We plan to finish reading the book in the coming days.

Mrs. Kamats and Mrs. Kline's Fifth Grade Enrichment Group - Book Study of The BFG by Roald Dahl
Mrs. Kamats and Mrs. Kline were also kind enough to send some stellar students to the library to participate in The Global Read Aloud.  This group worked on many of the same projects as Mrs. Asquith's class, with a few notable differences.  They prepared homemade gifts for Ms. Wismer's class in Omaha, Nebraska.

Students made "reading hats" for the Nebraska students!
The enrichment group used supplies from our makerspace to make gifts.
Students typed letters to our partner school in Nebraska.
A letter for the students in Nebraska.
Another completed letter for the Nebraska reading group.

The students also worked on contributing to numerous Padlets pertaining to The BFG.  They were excited to share what they were learning with other classrooms!  Like Mrs. Asquith's students, this group also created some amazing dream jars.

A dream jar that was posted to the class Padlet.

A pizza-inspired dream jar!
Students were dedicated to keeping the Padlet pages updated.

This group finished reading the book a bit earlier than Mrs. Asquith's group.  We still have some fun activities in store!  On December 6th, the students will participate in a Mystery Skype session with another class.  Meanwhile, the students are working on preparing "book trailers" about The BFG by using Voicethread.  These book trailers will include original artwork and voice recordings from the students.  The completed book trailers will be posted to the library website.

Mrs. Batt's  Seventh Grade Reading Class - Book Study of Pax by Sara Pennypacker
The seventh grade students in Mrs. Batt's reading class met bright and early during first period to listen to the audiobook version of Pax by Sara Pennypacker.  This is a wonderful book about a young boy named Peter who gets separated from Pax, his pet fox.  The story includes many powerful messages about family, growing up, and the effects of war.  Although there were some complex themes within the book, this led to some great discussions.  The students found ways to make powerful personal connections to the text.

First, the students sent an introductory video to other partnering classrooms.  This video introduced other classes to our school, what it is like to live in a rural area, and the reading preferences of the students in Mrs. Batt's class.

Mrs. Batt's class posing by a tractor made of hay bales.

Students sent letters to Ms. Taormina's students in Port Jefferson Station, NY and to Ms. Lidsky's students in Toronto, Ontario.  Both schools replied to our letters, which was very exciting!  It is always nice to hear from other people, but it was especially powerful to share our ideas about Pax.

Mrs. Batt designed wonderful activities surrounding this book.  Because the book included animals, students were invited to share their own stories about the animals in their lives.  Another portion of the story dealt with a sacred object found on a person during battle.  Mrs. Batt used this as an opportunity to discuss the concept of characterization within a text.  Students brought their own sacred objects into the library.  The classmates then visited the objects and practiced characterizing their peers by using words to describe the objects presented.  This activity helped students to understand the concept of characterization, while learning more about their peers.

The Pax reading group was also serious about keeping their Padlet updated!  This served as a space for the Pioneer students to communicate with the students from Port Jefferson Station.

A look at the Pax Padlet page.

Mrs. Batt's  Eighth Grade Reading Class - Book Study of Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Orbiting Jupiter was probably the most heart-wrenching of all of The Global Read Aloud books.  This book dealt with difficult subjects in a thoughtful and gentle way.  The story follows Joseph, a teenager who moves in with a foster family.  Joseph has had a difficult life, which included an abusive father and time in a juvenile detention facility.  Readers also learn that Joseph is a father to a baby named Jupiter, whom he has never met.  This story discusses trust, friendship, and what it means to be a family.  The book is beautifully written and allowed for some thought-provoking conversations.

Mrs. Batt's Orbiting Jupiter reading group.

The students created an introductory video to share with our partner schools.  We received an awesome video from Ms. Dupont's class at Richfield Middle School in Richfield, Minnesota!  It was wonderful to get a glimpse of the other students that would be reading Orbiting Jupiter.  Ms. Dupont's students frequently updated the Padlet page that we shared.

A look at the Orbiting Jupiter Padlet page.

Mrs. Batt came up with a great activity designed to get students to put themselves in the shoes of the book's characters.  Students divided into teams of two, with each group containing an interviewer and a character from the book.  Together, the students devised three sets of questions and answers relating to the character's involvement in the story.  It was great to see the students really think about the motivations of each character.  It was especially funny when a student took on the role of Rosie the cow!

This class also had the good fortune to Skype with another class reading Orbiting Jupiter!  This class was located in Arlington Heights, which is a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.  Students asked questions about the area in which we live, as well as questions about Orbiting Jupiter.

Mrs. Batt's students are ready to Skype with a class from Illinois.
The Orbiting Jupiter group also wrote and mailed out two sets of postcards to students in Richfield, Minnesota.  It was exciting to read their replies!

Reflections on The Global Read Aloud
Participating in The Global Read Aloud is one of my most highly-anticipated events each year.  There are so many benefits to taking part in this FREE event, but I will just focus on a few:

1. Students are exposed to amazing pieces of literature, which facilitates rich discussions.

2. Technology is used to communicate and produce, rather than consume.  Students are provided with concrete examples of how to use technology in productive and meaningful ways.

3. Global Read Aloud projects can be student-driven and allow for creativity.  With the enrichment groups especially, students designed and implemented the projects they chose to share with their partner schools.  Students need to feel empowered to make choices.

4. The Global Read Aloud allows for a variety of modes of communication to be explored.  These modes include classroom discussion, writing friendly letters, exchanging ideas via Padlet, and participating in Skype/Google Hangout sessions.

5. The connections made during the course of the project help students to build empathy and attain a global mindset.  Although students learn about the differences in geographical places, they find out that the students in other areas are a lot like themselves!

Next Steps
This is the second year that Pioneer Middle School has participated in The Global Read Aloud.  During our first year, Mrs. Proudman's class was the only group involved.  This year, six different groups participated in the project!  I hope to add even more classes to this project next year.  I'll be looking for ways to incorporate Twitter slow chats and other student-driven technologies.