Monday, May 23, 2016

Body Systems Research

It is always a treat to see Ms. Gates' science students in the library.  You may remember this wonderful group from the work they did on the Glory Be book trailers with Mrs. Rice.  For the last week, these students have been hard at work on a group project about body systems. 

Each group provided with a body system to research.  All members of the group were given specific pieces of information to find about their body system.  The information needed included definition/function of the body system, function of specific organs within the system, and diseases/disorders associated with the body system.

Prior to research, we discussed some helpful strategies.  We talked about how text features and the structure of nonfiction books help to make research possible.  The table of contents, glossary, index, bold words, pictures, captions, and subheadings are all useful tools in finding facts.  The class then had a great conversation about how to avoid plagiarism and stay organized through the use of MLA-formatted note sheets.

Students used both books and websites to complete their research.  Some of the books published by the AV2 company even contained links to helpful websites for this project.  Students accessed approved websites through a Symbaloo organizer located on the library webpage.  For each source used, students filled out a note sheet.

The books were a great source for research.

Many of the books provided an in-depth look into the body systems.

Students accessed websites by using a Symbaloo organizer posted on the library webpage.

Some websites provided detailed models of body systems and organs.

Even though students were only given a few days in the library to complete their research, they were able to accomplish great things!  Students understood that research is a process and is not meant to be easy.  They took their time and looked through many sources for information.  At the end of their time in the library, they completed a project planning sheet to bring back to the rest of their group members.

An example of a completed project planning sheet.

Once all group members completed their research, students met to discuss what they had learned and then focused on how they would present their learning to their classmates.  They had the option to present their information in a visual format (either through a poster or PowerPoint) or a written format (organized as a tour of the body system).

Groups met in order to decide how to present their findings.

There is a high level of creativity in Ms. Gates' classes, so I am certain that the final products will be thrilling!  All of the students deserve a round of applause for a job well done.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Holocaust Inquiry Project

The eighth grade ELA classes spent five days in the library working on a Holocaust inquiry project.  Mr. Colaiacovo and Mrs. Wood were looking for new ways to approach learning about the Holocaust.  Inquiry work seemed to do the trick!  Overall, we were very impressed by the high level of student engagement and the quality of the finished products.

On the first day of their visit, we introduced the project to the students.  They would be working in groups of four or five students.  Their group needed to decide on a Holocaust topic to research and then create a poster presentation centered upon their topic.  Some of the topics the groups chose to research included Anne Frank, Kindertransport, concentration camps, Adolf Hitler, the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and symbols of the Holocaust.  Once all groups decided on the topics they were interested in researching, students then spent time individually brainstorming some potential questions they were interested in researching.

Eighth grade students brainstorm potential research questions.

The brainstorming step is definitely one of the most important steps of the whole project.  An exciting aspect of inquiry research is that students are able to answer questions that are of interest to them personally.  Generating your own questions and finding the answers is empowering and engaging for students!  Ample time was spent during the brainstorming step in order for students to think about what they would like to learn through research.

The next steps in the inquiry process required student groups to sort through their questions in order to focus on 8-10 manageable questions for research.  Students eliminated or rewrote opinion-based questions.  They also reworked questions that could be answered with a simple yes or no answer.  The question elimination process involved teamwork, sorting, compromise, and critical thinking skills.

Student groups looked through all potential research questions prior to picking 8-10 to use for research.

After the groups were satisfied with the questions chosen for research, they transferred the questions to an organizer.  Students chose two questions apiece that they would be personally responsible for researching.

An example of a finished question sheet.

Once students had decided on their research questions, they received a brief introduction to the library resources available to assist with their research.  These eighth grade students have been using the library for research since fifth grade.  It was wonderful to see that they were well-acquainted with the sources to be used for research!  Students documented their sources by using MLA-formatted note sheets.

Students used a variety of library books to assist with research.
A Symbaloo organizer on the library website pointed students in the direction of reliable websites for research.
Online databases, such as Britannica, provided a wealth of information.
Students used MLA-formatted Note Sheets to keep track of their sources.
Information gathered through research was recorded in workbooks.

The entire research process took approximately one and a half class periods.  Some students wisely chose to bring their research home for homework.  This gave students the whole class period on Friday, May 13th to create their posters and work on their presentations.

Group members worked together to create posters centered around their topic.

Students made sure to give credit to their image sources.
A completed poster about Anne Frank.

The posters demonstrated creativity and organization.

Now that students had completed their posters, the final step for the project was to present their information.  Although some students expressed their apprehension about presenting publicly, the presentations were extremely well done!  The ability to answer questions that students were personally curious about led to greater investment in the research process.  The majority of groups were not simply reading off of their poster.  Instead, students demonstrated a deep knowledge of their topic and were even able to answer questions from the audience.

A group presents their findings about concentration camps.
Students present about Auschwitz while classmates take notes.

While the groups were presenting, students were asked to take notes on the presentation.  These notes will help to build background knowledge about topics pertaining to the Holocaust.  Holocaust topics will be discussed more in-depth in both ELA and Social Studies classes this year.  Eighth grade students participating in the Washington, DC field trip will even have the opportunity to further their knowledge by visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

At the conclusion of this project, students completed a reflection about their own participation in the inquiry process.  This will help the instructors decide what components of the project need to be changed for next year's group of students.  We could not be more proud of the hard work done by the eighth grade ELA students!  They achieved great things in just five short days.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Family Reading Night 2016

Pioneer's fifth annual Family Reading Night took place on Friday, April 22nd, 2016.  The theme was Make Time for Reading and all activities centered around reading, science, robotics, and other crafts.  Our special guest was the Buffalo Museum of Science.  The Museum staff provided many exciting hands-on activities for event attendees.

We had a great turnout for the event!  Hundreds of students and their families were in attendance.  We would like to extend a special thank you to the many volunteers who made this event possible.

Our district publicist, Mr. Skip Tillinghast, put together this great highlight video:

Here are some other memorable moments from Family Reading Night:

The first 150 families received a free Family Reading Night bag loaded with goodies!
Ms. Prorok greets a middle school family at the start of the event.  
Local businesses donated items for door prizes.

It was great to see Pioneer teachers and their families!

Electricity demonstration with the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Learning about circuits with the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Making goo was a big hit!
Middle school and high school students served as event volunteers.

The craft rooms were busy all evening long!

The Girls' Track Team did a great job coordinating the Book Swap.

The Book Swap provided free reading materials for families.

Although we will not be hosting a Family Reading Night event in 2017, we look forward to bringing this event back to Pioneer in 2018.  See you then!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Thank you, Augusta Scattergood!

On May 9, 2016, the students in Mrs. Rice's fifth grade ELA classes were treated to a Skype visit with author Augusta Scattergood.  Earlier this school year, Mrs. Rice's students created book trailers centered upon Scattergood's book Glory Be.  You can read about that project by clicking here.

We shared our projects via this blog and Twitter and were surprised and excited when Ms. Scattergood responded.  She was kind enough to watch the book trailers and comment on our blog.  We were totally blown away when she then offered to Skype with us!

In order to prepare for the visit, students composed questions for Ms. Scattergood and wrote them on index cards.  We revisited how to be good audience members during author visits.  The students were eager to ask Augusta Scattergood their questions.

Skyping with Augusta Scattergood.

The students asked an impressive range of questions.  Here is a sampling of the information we learned:
  • Augusta Scattergood used to be a school librarian. (No wonder I thought she was so awesome!)
  • She was inspired by the story of Ruby Bridges and drew upon her own experiences in order to write Glory Be.
  • Sometimes it takes a long time to write a book.
  • Authors should always carry a notebook - you never know when an idea will come to you.
  • Augusta Scattergood has written three books: Glory Be, The Way to Stay in Destiny, and Making Friends with Billy Wong.

We would like to extend a HUGE Thank-O-Rama to Augusta Scattergood for taking the time to Skype with us!  It was truly an experience that we will remember and cherish for years to come.  This visit has inspired students to read and hone their own writing skills.

Highlights from SSL 2016

There is something to be said for spending time with others who share your interests and passions.  This is why I can't think of a better way to spend my time than with school librarians from across New York State.  The SSL (Section of School Librarians) statewide conference was held from May 5th through 7th in Albany, NY.  The conference planning committee did an outstanding job providing fantastic professional development opportunities throughout the duration of the conference.

Although it would be impossible to encapsulate all of the awesomeness present during SSL 2016, I will do my best to discuss some of the highlights.

Rubbing Elbows with Authors
It should come as no surprise that authors are the celebrities of the library world!  There was no shortage of amazing authors at the conference.  Although I did not get a chance to see everyone, I was delighted to hear speeches from Seymour Simon (who visited Pioneer this year!), Patricia McCormick, Holly Black, and Joseph Bruchac.  I had the extra special opportunity to chat with Michael Arndt as well!  Each of these authors shared important messages about the powers of reading and storytelling.   Not only do books have the power to entertain and inspire, but books can also alert people to important issues and problems within society.  Each of the authors present at SSL have made the world a better place through their work.

So excited to get an autographed copy of Sold by Patricia McCormick.

Mrs. Pierce and I got to see Seymour Simon, an author who visited Pioneer in March!

Friends from Near and Far
Attending conferences are also another great way to stay connected with other librarians.  Through attending professional development sessions, you can get inspired by the positive work being done by others in the library profession.

I was very excited for the Univerity at Buffalo meetup on Friday evening.  It was wonderful to get to see the current UB graduate students who are well on their way to becoming school librarians.  It is always great when dynamic, caring people enter the school library profession!

Stacey Rattner (the LEAPING librarian!) is one of the most inspirational librarians I have had the pleasure of meeting.  She has an unparalleled ability to get children excited about authors and reading.  I am always amazed when I hear about her author visits, award celebrations, and overall awesome things going on at her school's library.  You can check out Stacey's blog here.

SSL 2016 would not have been complete without a LEAP with Stacey Rattner.

Stacey and I also share a deep respect for the school librarians in Texas.  We were able to meet some Texas librarians during the AASL Conference in 2015.  Attending a Texas Library Association conference is definitely on our professional bucket list.  We were sure to represent Texas at SSL by donating a Texas-themed basket to the Knickerbocker Raffle.  Our friend, librarian Kirsten Murphy from Texas, and Texas authors Nikki Loftin and Emma Virjan donated authentic Texas items to the basket!  Although we do not know the winner of the basket, we hope that the winner appreciates Texas as much as we do!

All of the great goodies gathered by our Texas librarian/author friends.

The keynote speaker for SSL 2016 was none other than Mr. John Schumacher, more commonly referred to as Mr. Schu.  Mr. Schu now serves as Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries.  To say that Mr. Schu is passionate about reading would be a complete understatement.  His presentation was inspirational, engaging, humorous, and made me reflect on all of the reasons why I wanted to be a librarian in the first place.  After his keynote speech, I felt re-energized and willing to tackle any library challenge!  Most importantly, it made me want to continue with the sacred duty of sharing stories with children.

Mrs. Pierce and I were also lucky enough to be able to chat with Mr. Schu!  It was nice to hear that he teaches graduate library classes, just like me.  I'm sure that Mr. Schu's classes are inspirational to those entering the library field.

Mrs. Pierce meets "Mr. Schu!"

Ideas to Take Back to the Library
At the core of my reasons for enjoying conferences is that I always come back with new ideas to try at the Pioneer Middle School library.  Here are some of the ideas I gathered that may turn into big plans:
  • Leslie Preddy, the President of AASL attended the conference!  I was able to hear her speak at the SSL board meeting prior to the start of the conference.  It was wonderful to hear national-level library updates.  Ms. Preddy shared great advocacy ideas, too.
  • Annarose Foley, a librarian at Boynton Middle School in Ithaca, NY, shared how she has "genre-fied" her library without reshelving the books.  
  • Bridget Crossman and Sarah Olsen, librarians from the Lake George School District, shared how to improve your library through the inquiry process.  In addition to some great tips, they also shared how tech tools such as Smore, Google Hangouts, Nearpod, and Padlet can be used in the library setting.  This session challenged me to find new ways to use technology we already have at Pioneer!

Mr. Schu alerted us to the fact that May is officially Thank-O-Rama month.  I will be taking time this month to thank people for being awesome!  I'll begin by thanking the great folks who hosted the 2016 SSL Conference.  THANK YOU! 

Next year's SSL Conference will take place in Buffalo.  SLAWNY, our local affiliate of NYLA/SSL, is looking forward to welcoming our library friends to our area!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Frogs: Fiction vs. Nonfiction

Earlier in the school year, Mrs. Proudman's class explored the differences between fiction and nonfiction by studying two different books about the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  In order to further reinforce this concept, we looked at both a fiction and nonfiction selection about frogs.

We chose The Biggest Frog in Australia by Susan L. Roth for our fictional frog story.  Warning: this story is VERY funny!  The biggest frog in Australia is extremely thirsty - thirsty to the point that he drinks all the water in and around Australia!  The other animals are sick of the lack of water and find funny ways in which to get the frog to laugh.

The Biggest Frog in Australia is a fictional frog story.

We discussed the reasons why this book was fictional.  It was obviously a silly story complete with talking animals and unrealistic situations.  Mrs. Proudman's students truly enjoyed this story!

For an accompanying craft, students were given the choice of making an origami frog or a frog puppet.  The finished products were amazing.

Frog puppets and frog origami were two craft choices.

Finished frog puppets!

During the library visit next week, we then explored a nonfiction book about frogs.  The books selected was How Do Frogs Swallow with Their Eyes? by Melvin and Gilda Berger.  The organization of this book was particularly helpful because it was organized into a series of questions and answers.  Instead of reading the entire book, we focused solely on the questions that Mrs. Proudman's students had about frogs.  We learned some interesting facts, including some insight into the title of the book.  Frogs are able to blink their eyes in order to push their food into their stomachs.  Kind of gross, but very intruiging!

Students in Mrs. Proudman's class then used paper plates for another frog craft activity.  This class is full of talented artists.

Working on paper plate frog crafts.

Three finished paper plate frogs!

We are all finished with our fiction vs. nonfiction activities for the year.  It was great to compare and contrast between these types of writing.  Mrs. Proudman's students are now hard at work on Voicethread book trailers for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  We will  be using the remainder of the school year to complete these videos.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Skype Visit with Thanhha Lai

Pioneer Middle School's eighth grade students had a very special day on Thursday, April 28th.  After finishing the book Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, they were able to have a Skype session with Ms. Lai!

Eighth grade ELA students read Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai.

For those unfamiliar with the book, it is a novel in verse which is based on Ms. Lai's childhood.  As a young girl during the Vietnam War, Thanhha Lai (along with her family) fled Vietnam and settled in Alabama.  The transition from Vietnam to the United States was anything but easy.  Inside Out and Back Again chronicles the struggles, and triumphs associated with moving to a new country.

Prior to the visit, students prepared many different questions to ask Ms. Lai.  Some of the questions had to do with Ms. Lai's childhood while other questions dealt with action and characters from the book.  During the Skype visit, students approached the webcam and ask Thanhha Lai the questions they had prepared.

A student asks Thanhha Lai a question about the book.

Perhaps an unintended consequence of the visit is that many of the students were rendered speechless!  This was a unique opportunity, so many of our students were a bit shy or starstruck.  No one was more starstruck than eighth grade ELA teacher Mr. Colaiacovo!

This was the first time in which Pioneer Middle School students used Skype to connect with an author.  We hope this will be the first of many virtual author visits.  It was very interesting to gather firsthand knowledge directly from the author.  We now know many "secrets" from the books!  Thank you to Thanhha Lai for making this amazing experience possible.