Friday, February 11, 2011

Wrestlemania Reading Challenge Celebration

Today was a memorable day at Palmetto Middle. The sixth grade reached their goal of reading 1,000 books for the Wrestlemania Reading Challenge and the celebration was held today. The reward for reaching the goal was that each of our three principals dressed as wrestlers and made an appearance during their lunch period. Luckily I have three wonderful administrators that agreed to do this. The students had a blast and I think the teachers enjoyed it even more. I am so proud of our sixth graders for reaching their goal and in only three months! Next week we begin the Six Flags Read to Succeed program. I can't wait to see how many students read for the required six hours to earn a ticket to the theme park. Today was a great day because we celebrated reading and had tons of fun.

Gadget Petting Zoo Encore

After the success of the electronic gadget petting zoo with my school faculty and staff, the district office asked that I host one for all of the librarians in our district. I was thrilled. The petting zoo has evolved to include QR codes, more Kindles, a Nook Color, and iPod Touches. Also, the signs were upgraded and made beautiful by my colleague, Kristen Hearne. This was the first time we have met as a group this year and my first time meeting many of these ladies. We had a great time talking about the gadgets, sharing ideas and discussing the merits and weaknesses of Kindles and Nooks. After our time with the gadgets we made plans for librarian-led professional development for our district and we had a chance to voice our concerns with district administration. I hope this will encourage more collaboration between all 14 librarians. It was a productive meeting and I look forward to seeing our professional development plans come to life.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Library Confessions

I probably shouldn't admit these things in public, but I am curious if other librarians have similar confessions. I have two that I am willing to share today.
1. I have not read the Harry Potter series.
2. I do not buy books.
I know, I know. I haven't read the entire Harry Potter series. I hope that I do not have my library certification stripped after someone reads this. In my defense, I have read the first two. I thought they were cute, but I just did not get attached to the characters like so many others have. I have been told that I need to read the others because they are more mature and I would probably like them better. I hesitate to read them for a few reasons. I do a lot of reading so that I can help my students find books they might like. Harry Potter needs no introduction. I never have a student that hasn't heard of it or hasn't already tried it if they like fantasy. Other books; however, need my endorsement to get into the hands of a student. I feel like I should spend time on those books instead of trying to finish the series, which let's face it is quite long. I have seen bits and pieces of the movies and now feel that I am tainted and can't read the books. I ALWAYS read the book before I see the movie and now I don't know if the book would keep my interest because I know the basics of the story from seeing parts of the movie. Maybe I can work them into my summer reading or listen to the audio in the car as a compromise.
My second confession probably sounds very strange to many librarians. Of course, I buy books at school, but I do not buy books for myself. I have one bookshelf in my living room with my 25 all time favorite books on it and that is all. One of those shelves is full of books for my son which I rotate as he grows up. I do buy books for him, but not for myself. Yet, I read probably 7 to 10 books a month depending on my schedule. I satisfy my reading habit by reading as many books from my middle school library as I possibly can and books from my local public library. My public librarian and I are friends. She has my holds waiting on me as soon as I pull into the parking lot. If I miss a few days coming in she worries about me. I think the public library is one of the greatest institutions in the history of civilization and I visit often. I learned a valuable lesson about books in college after changing dorms many times when I worked in the housing department. Books are heavy. They are difficult to move and store and I just didn't have room for tons of books. This is when I decided to stop buying books. I rarely read a book more than once and I finally admitted to myself that I was keeping books to try to prove to others that I was smart and well read. Now I go to the book store to find titles for my school library, buy for my son or buy gifts. If I see a book I want I just put it on hold at the library.

What are your library confessions?

Google Voice for the Library

After reading articles here and here about Google Voice I decided to give it a try. I set up a Google Voice account for students to text or call the library for homework or research assistance. I added a widget to my school library page and advertised the number in the library. I am not sure if I will have much response from the students, especially in the beginning, but I want my students to have access to my help at all times of the day.
Google Voice is a manageable solution because I am able to keep my personal number private, yet access student questions by voicemail or text with my home phone and computer. It is completely free and easy to use. You can personalize your number when available. I used the initials of our school name. Google Voice automatically transcribes your voicemails and you can have them emailed or sent to your phone for viewing. There is even an app for your phone.
Many of our students come from low income homes and do not have a parent at home that is able and/or willing to help them complete homework. I feel a moral obligation to do my best to help them. This is one way to reach out to them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Skype Interviews a Huge Hit

I want to rave about our two Skype author interviews. The book club was fortunate enough to host authors Julie Berry and Sarah Prineas on Skype. This was the first time our district has approved the use of Skype at school so I wanted to make sure it all went off without a hitch. My district superintendent approved my request and I knew that others would be watching to see how it went. From what I understand others have been turned down in the past when they requested to use Skype.
To prepare for the interviews I took several steps to ensure it went well. First I ensured that students had plenty of time to purchase and read the books. I made sure they were in our book fair and were reasonably priced. I bought copies for the library as well. I tested Skype several times and prepared the students. I spoke with them about the types of questions that were appropriate, reminding them of being polite and thankful and we practiced how we would ask the questions. I pointed out to them that even though our speaker was not in the room she could see them so make sure to sit up straight and be attentive. I left our webcam view up so they could see themselves and see how they appeared to her. Students submitted questions to me on index cards and I highlighted some of my favorites then put them in an order that made the most sense. I wrote down the students' names in the order I wanted them to ask their question and I gave them their index card back. After welcoming the author and having the students greet the author I called the students in the order I wanted their questions asked. Each student stood and clearly asked their question. I also had several questions in mind in case their was extra time or a pause between questions.
Our first interview was with Julie Berry, the author of The Amaranth Enchantment, Secondhand Charm and the Splurch Academy series. The students loved talking with her. She told us about her favorite authors, her inspiration for the stories, her method for writing, current projects and some of the behind the scenes work that goes into publishing a book. She was so friendly and fun. I highly recommend her if you are looking for a middle school appropriate author. Check out her site for more about this amazing author.

Our second interview was Sarah Prineas, the author of the Magic Thief series. She was delightful. She has a way with middle school age students. She shared a few secrets about her books including hints in the cover illustrations and her friends' names in the magic spells. She shared her inspiration from Tolkien and The Sword and The Stone. We also were happy to learn about the fourth installment in the Magic Thief series and a female main character in her new book, Winterling. Check out her site for more about this excellent fantasy author.

My students really enjoyed the chance to speak with the authors. I've heard from other teachers how excited the kids were and how much they talked about the experience when they returned to class. I look forward to using Skype again soon.
If you are interested in hosting an author via Skype check out this list of authors who will Skype 20 minute chats for free. If you have any advice, experience or questions about Skyping an author I would love to hear from you.

Goodbye Card Catalog

Gone are the days of using the paper card catalog; however, I found the remains of ours behind the stage. I love the way the furniture itself looks so I decided to reuse one for an organizer for supplies. My student helpers cleaned out the old cards. There were cards from the 1950s and 1960s. They thought it was so strange. I remember using the card catalog and I'm not THAT old, but it goes to show you how quickly things change. We have to do our best to keep up.
Do you still have a card catalog somewhere in your school closet or back room?

SCASL Webinars on eReaders

Kindlingphoto © 2009 Windell Oskay | more info (via: Wylio)
My first webinar as a contributing speaker was last night. The IT Committee of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians has organized a series of webinars. The first two were about ereaders. Last night I was a contributor to the second in their series. I shared my experiences using Kindles at school. It was a great experience. There were several great questions and I hope that I helped other librarians that are considering purchasing Kindles for their school. I plan to present about my experiences at an upcoming technology conference and this was wonderful practice. It revealed some weaknesses in my materials. I need to share more details about my purchasing and cataloging methods. I will also have more data collected about the academic impact the Kindles have had on the student users. My two year old son interrupted a few times, but my husband is in Afghanistan so I didn't have anyone here to distract him. I think everyone understood because there were lots of moms in attendance. Maybe I can find a more interesting movie to maintain his attention next time.
I appreciate the opportunity to participate and send a special thanks to Heather Loy for organizing the event. You can view the archive of the first webinar here and the archive for last night's webinar here.