Friday, March 18, 2016

Thank you, Seymour Simon!

On March 1st, 2016, the fifth, sixth, and seventh graders at Pioneer Middle School had the good fortune to experience a visit from Seymour Simon, a well-known author of books for children.  For the past several weeks, students came to the library to learn more about Seymour Simon and his books.  Due to their participation in these activities, students had background knowledge on Seymour Simon's works and were looking forward to meeting the author in person!

Seymour Simon's visit certainly did not disappoint.  He captivated the middle school audiences with information about outer space and other science concepts.  Instead of just relating facts to the students, he inspired them to think beyond their current knowledge and remain curious about the world (and solar system!) around us. 

Seymour Simon speaks to an audience at Pioneer Middle School.

All Pioneer students deserve to be commended for their behavior during the visit.  They were attentive, polite, and shared their knowledge with Mr. Simon when he asked questions.  The student groups definitely exemplified what it means to be Respectful, Responsible, and Ready.

After the presentations, Mr. Simon then signed books for students and staff members who ordered copies of his books.  The large number of books ordered (nearly 150!) signifies that we have a school of curious learners here at Pioneer.

Seymour Simon graciously autographed many books for the Pioneer community!

The visit inspired many classes to write thank you notes to Seymour Simon.  The fifth grade students in Mrs. Rice's class sent Mr. Simon a very humorous card based on a event that actually happened in their classroom.  A student signed Seymour Simon's Paper Airplane Book out of the library.  After the student built a great airplane from the book's instructions, he proceeded to fly the plane - directly into the hair of another student!  The card the students sent to Mr. Simon included a step-by-step recreation of this hilarious event.

Mrs. Proudman's students might be the biggest fans of Seymour Simon in the whole middle school.  They spent many weeks on a Seymour Simon author study during their library visits.  They especially like his books about animals.  Each student sent a personalized note to the author.

A thank you note from a student in Mrs. Proudman's class.

The seventh grade science students in Mrs. Wyman and Mrs. Unghire's rooms were also eager to send a note of thanks.  They created class notes where each student decorated a star with a personal message to the author.

A thank you note from a seventh grade science class.
Students added personalized messages to Seymour Simon.

Students were inspired by Seymour Simon's visit.

Seymour Simon's visit sparked students' interest in learning about space.

Perhaps the greatest testament to Mr. Simon's visit is that his books are constantly checked out of our library.  Since his visit, there is not a Seymour Simon book to be found!  This is a great problem to have if you happen to be a librarian.  It's wonderful to know that students are enjoying their reading material.

Thank you again, Seymour Simon!  Your visit was informative and inspiring.  We appreciate that you were willing to take the time to visit us at Pioneer Middle School.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Homemade Lava Lamps

As part of our school's Maker Club offerings, students are allowed to "pitch" an idea for a Super Thursday.  A Super Thursday event is a student-led workshop involving crafts, computer coding, or technology.  Prior to scheduling and promoting a Super Thursday, the student instructor must create their lesson, gather the necessary supplies (I'll help, of course!), and run through their lesson.

Our third Super Thursday was taught by Carol, one of our amazing Maker Club members.  Carol is a natural teacher.  She is kind, organized, and helpful when instructing other students through the Super Thursday activity.

The activity Carol organized for this month involved making homemade lava lamps.  This project aligned well to our Maker Club ideas, as many of our projects involve recycled materials or items that could be obtained for a small cost.  The supplies needed for this project were empty water bottles, water, vegetable oil, Alka Seltzer, and food coloring.  We also used items already found in our makerspace in order to decorate the finished products.

Through use of a PowerPoint, Carol led students through the creation of the lava lamps.  It was a multiple step project, but Carol kept the lesson clear and organized throughout.  Did I mention she is a natural teacher?!

Students listen to the next step in the project.

The vegetable oil and Alka Seltzer created the lava lamp effect.

The Alka Seltzer needed to be carefully poured into the bottle.

Once the lava lamps were made and the water bottle caps were properly secured, students then decorated their creations.  Carol put on some music in order to make the decorating even more fun!  It was interesting to see the wide variety of finished products.

The Super Thursday group with their homemade creations.

Beautiful homemade lava lamps!

Any student interested in coordinating a Super Thursday event is encouraged to pitch their idea.  See Ms. Muhlbauer, Ms. McKenzie, or Mr. LoBianco for more information.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Reflections on AASL 2015

The longer I spend as a school librarian, the more overwhelmed I am with what I have yet to learn.  The success of library programs hinges on our commitment to professional growth, reflection, and a willingness to embrace change.  There is no better way to grow as a professional than to attend conferences and other professional development opportunities.

A somewhat underutilized perk of membership in professional organizations is the ability to apply for grants and scholarships.  Bound to Stay Bound Books offers thirty travel grants of up to $750 for first time attendees to go to the AASL National Conference.  Last year, I decided to submit an application.  Someone was going to win – why not me?  I was pleased to learn that I was selected to receive a travel grant.  This financial assistance made attendance at a national conference within reach for me.

In November 2015, I was headed to Columbus, Ohio to attend the conference.  It is a little out of my comfort zone to travel alone, but once in Columbus I was reunited with library friends from across New York.  It is difficult to encapsulate all that goes on at a national conference.  Looking back, the whole experience is still a whirlwind!  I’ll do my best to hit the high points from the experience.

Authors, Authors, Authors
Authors are the celebrities of the library world, so I couldn’t wait to rub elbows with some of my favorites.  AASL hosted dozens of authors.  There were so many authors in attendance that it was impossible to meet everyone I was interested in seeing.  Some of the highlights for me included Brian Selznick, Tim Federle, Sonia Manzano, Rita Williams-Garcia, Loren Long, and Jonathan Auxier.  Sessions throughout the conference also featured authors of engaging nonfiction books.  This gave me some insight into new authors whose works I could bring back to the students at Pioneer Middle.  Two past SLAWNY Fall Sharing authors, Gennifer Choldenko and Matt de le Peña, also attended AASL!

Gennifer Choldenko - one of my favorite authors!

Meeting Celebrity Librarians
Speaking of celebrities, there were phenomenal librarians in attendance at AASL 2015.  It was extremely valuable to attend sessions featuring Diana Rendina (maker librarian extraordinaire), Kristina Holzweiss (School Library Journal’s 2015 School Librarian of the Year), and Leslie Preddy (AASL President).  As an avid Twitter user, it was amazing to see many of the people that I have been following live and in person.  Of course, the NYLA/SSL leadership descended upon AASL in full force!  It was valuable to spend time with New York’s librarians.  We were able to discuss plans and dreams for the SSL 2017 Conference, which will be held in Buffalo and hosted by all of us here at SLAWNY.

So Many Sessions
The days of AASL are jam-packed with sessions.  It is really difficult to choose!  I went to many of the author sessions, but was also able to attend sessions about makerspaces, the future of higher education library programs, and designing library programs on a shoestring budget.  A great perk to attending this conference was that many of the sessions were recorded.  With your AASL membership, you can log into the eCOLLAB service to access videos of sessions you may have missed.

Quality Time with Vendors
Although sometimes we aren’t in the best position when it comes to purchasing, it is important to recognize the importance of vendors when it comes to conferences.  These vendors pay large amounts of money to attend conferences.  This is what makes conference registration fees affordable rather than exorbitant.  At AASL 2015, the vendors were eager to get the word out about their products.  Vendors hosted many special events for participants, including lunches, snack breaks, and giveaways.  During one evening at AASL 2015, the folks at Britannica treated some of us New York librarians to dinner!  It was great to meet the people behind the product and hear more about how to best use their services.

Out to dinner with Britannica and NYS librarians.

Ideas to Use Immediately
The most important takeaway from AASL 2015 was a wide variety of ideas that I will be able to use at Pioneer Middle School.  New authors to introduce, new makerspace ideas, and interesting lesson ideas – the list goes on and on.  Some ideas I have put to work right away, while other ideas remain on the backburner for a better time.

When attending conferences, I am always humbled by the amazing work being done by the great people in our profession.  Conferences provide a valuable forum for idea exchange, learning, and camaraderie.  Please consider applying for the grant and scholarship opportunities available through our professional organizations.  Someone has to win – why not you?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Book Kick-Off for Hatchet

It is without a doubt the students in Mrs. Morey's class love to read!  These students are frequent library customers and have read a number of books together in the classroom.  They were just about to begin reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.  In order to create a little more excitement about starting the book, Mrs. Morey's students visited the library during February for a book kick-off.

For those unfamiliar with the book, Hatchet is a fictional story about a boy named Brian who must find ways to survive alone in the wilderness after a plane crash leaves him stranded.  Although the book itself is a work of fiction, it contains many real-life items concerning wilderness survival.

To begin our book kick-off, we first spent some time getting to know Gary Paulsen, the author of Hatchet.  Using an audio clip from, we learned that Gary Paulsen has a great admiration for the wilderness.  Because he had a bit of a troubled life at home, he often found his time in nature to be a peaceful escape from the chaos at home.  It is no wonder that many Gary Paulsen's books are centered around the wilderness!

We then took some time viewing different videos pertaining to survival themes.  The students watched the video clips on the screen, then we discussed the videos as a group.

We used the projector in order to view video clips about the wilderness.

The video clips focused on how to survive alone in the wilderness, ways to build a shelter, what to do in the event of a bear attack, and how to use items in nature to make your own camouflage.  Mrs. Morey's students came in with lots of background knowledge, but the videos taught us even more.  We had a very interesting discussion about survival skills! 

Some of the facts we learned include:
  • Building a shelter on high ground helps keep your shelter dry
  • A jacket hood can be used to filter water so it is safe to drink
  • If a bear attacks, you will want to curl up on the ground and protect your neck

Students recorded their observations about the videos.

It was wonderful to get to visit with Mrs. Morey's class.  We learned many new survival tips.  It will be interesting to see if the tips we learned during our book kick-off are the same strategies that Brian uses in the book Hatchet

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Al Pha's Bet

For this week's visit with Mrs. Proudman's class, we decided to read a book by one of our favorite authors - Amy Krouse Rosenthal!  To prepare for our participation in Global Read Aloud (GRA), we had purchased many books by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  We were not able to get to all of the books during GRA, so it was nice to have some time this month to return to Ms. Rosenthal's books.

The book we chose to read was Al Pha's Bet.  This fictional story was about a gentleman named Al Pha who lived in the days before the alphabet.  He accepted a challenge to find a way to organize all 26 letters into (you guessed it) the alphabet!  Like many of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's books, this story was full of word play, puns, and humor.  Mrs. Proudman's students loved hearing about the silly ways Al Pha chose to organize the letters.

Al Pha's Bet by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

After reading the story, we tried coming up with our own ways to reorganize the alphabet by using foam letters.  The students divided into two separate groups and got right to work!

The students used foam letters to rearrange the alphabet.

It was interesting to see the strategies that each group used to come up with their new version of the alphabet.  While each team had a very different result, both teams displayed excellent teamwork and cooperation.

Finding new ways to rearrange the alphabet.

Both teams worked well together!

At the end of the activity, the students presented their new alphabets to the class.  One group decided to reorganize the alphabet to read backwards instead of forwards.  This took some checking and planning to make sure everything was in the right order! 

A backwards alphabet.
The other group decided to rearrange the letters according to the first letter in each name of all of their classmates.  When they ran out of names of classmates, they then moved onto names of teachers and other friends.  Each letter had some significance to the group.

An alphabet paying tribute to classmates, friends, and teachers.

We had a wonderful time reading Al Pha's Bet.  Next week we will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day with an Irish folktale.  Never a dull moment when Mrs. Proudman's students visit the library!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Science Olympiad 2016

On Saturday, March 5th, Pioneer Middle School competed in the regional Science Olympiad competition held at Waterfront Elementary in Buffalo.  The competition included twenty different events involving areas of science.  Some of the events, such as Air Trajectory and Elastic Launched Glider, involved bringing a building project to the competition.  Other events included labs or testing in areas such as astronomy, geology, and zoology.

Lots of studying and preparation went into the competition.
The teams had a successful day, placing tenth overall.  Medal winners are:
Fifth Place in Crime Busters: Katarina and Heidi

Fifth Place in Dynamic Planet: Kelsey and Cora

Fourth Place in Food Science: Nick and Derek

Second Place in Reach for the Stars: Dustin and Cora

Fifth Place in Write It/Do It: Evan and Madison
Most importantly, the Pioneer team took home the Lake Erie Niagara Spirit Award.  This award goes to the team that displays teamwork, kindness, and good sportsmanship throughout the competition.  Pioneer went above and beyond to be polite to others and assist teams that needed help.  This is the second time in four years that Pioneer has taken home the Spirit Award. 

Pioneer Middle School wins the Spirit Award!
The members of the Science Olympiad team are Kerianne, Aidan, Cora, Derek, Vera, Emily, Evan, Dustin, Madison, Heidi, Shaughnessy, Katarina, Nick, Clay, and Kelsey.  Coaches for Science Olympiad are Mr. Atkinson, Ms. Muhlbauer, and Mrs. Unghire.  Be sure to congratulate all team members on their outstanding accomplishments!

The 2016 Science Olympiad Team

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Celebrating Diversity Month

February 2016 marked Diversity Month at Pioneer Middle School.  During this month, there were many activities designed to shed light on issues and themes that Pioneer students may not previously have had an awareness about.

The library celebrated Diversity Month in a variety of ways.  Throughout the month of February, books featuring diverse characters or written by authors of diverse backgrounds were prominently displayed in the library.  Many of the books displayed are also included on the We Need Diverse Books website.  This website is an amazing resource for learning about great authors and titles!

Books selected for the Diversity Month display.

As the books were checked out, we replaced them with new titles.

In addition to the library display, I also appeared on the morning announcements to give book talks on some of the great books available on our display.  The books highlighted include:

Lastly, we hosted a reading contest in the library.  Each time a student read a book from the display, they were invited to fill out a short survey about the book. Winning entries were selected at random.

The survey asked students to write down the title, author, genre, main idea, and an answer to one question.  The question stated, "From this book, did you gain a new appreciation for people whose experiences are different that yours?"

Students with the winning entries chose to read the following books (I am listing these because they are excellent choices for independent reading!):

Below are some of the answers to the survey questions.  The answers to these questions show that our Pioneer students are insightful, kind, and have a strong appreciation for others.

The books displayed during the month of February are always available for checkout in the library.  We enjoyed participating in February's Diversity Month and look forward to connecting students with books featuring characters and authors from different backgrounds.