Book Review: The Here and Now

the-here-and-now

A little back story here – back when I was working on my Library Science degree in 2008, I took a class on young adult literature.  One of the books I had to read for that class was Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and I loved it so much that I proceeded to read all the sequels.  So when I got my hands on Ann Brashares’ latest book, The Here and Now, I was eager to check it out.  It did not disappoint.

Here’s my review on Goodreads:

Prenna comes from a horrible future – a place that has been devastated by mosquito-borne disease. She and others from her time travel back to 2010 in hopes of having normal lives again. But there are strict rules – they are not allowed to interfere with the lives of time natives, to make themselves known. But Ethan saw Prenna when she first arrived, and their lives continue to intertwine after that. When the two of them discover that they can change the course of the future and stop the plague, they have to decide just how far they’re willing to go.

This was a beautiful, magical book that deals well with the concept of time travel and it’s potential consequences.

Weekly reads: August 17, 2014

WeeklyReads2

*Welcome to Weekly Reads.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo throughout the week, I come across a lot of great resources that I think others would benefit from.  This post is my place to bring together some of my favorite finds of the week and share them with you.  Enjoy!*

(Note: I currently have a DonorsChoose project going on to help us build a LEGO wall and store Mindstorms robots in our Makerspace.  The code INSPIRE is still good for a match through Tuesday.  Please consider giving and helping my students have an even more awesome library)

Education/ Libraries

Makerspaces

Technology/ Tools

 

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Epic LEGO Wall and Mindstorms DonorsChoose Project

The inspiration for our LEGO wall

The inspiration for our LEGO wall

We’ve just posted our first DonorsChoose project of the year.  At the end of last year, we funded a project to get a start on creating a LEGO wall in our Makerspace like the one shown above.  After looking at the size of the area with some of my students, we decided that we wanted to expand the LEGO wall so that more students could use it at one time. The final size will be like the one in the picture above, but ten inches shorter.  This project will help us to make our LEGO wall awesomely big, a focal point of our Makerspace, and an amazing space for students to create.

Here’s where it will go (the green paper is on the wall to give you an idea of the scale):

Our future LEGO wall

Our future LEGO wall

We also had an amazing donation of a bunch of LEGO Mindstorms NXT robots to our Makerspace.  Our school’s robotics team is switching to VEX robots, so we now have all the Mindstorms in our media center.  Our after school Maker club will be using them this year to learn coding and create some amazing robots.  In order to make it easier for students to tinker with our new robots, we need a cart that we can store them in and roll out whenever we have programs.  We also need some books to inspire new projects and ideas.

Our LEGO Mindstorms robots, in need of a storage cart

Our LEGO Mindstorms robots, in need of a storage cart

Please consider donating to our project and helping us continue to grow our Makerspace at Stewart.  At the time of writing this post, we only have $421 to go.  Also, all donations in the first week are matched with the code INSPIRE.  Here is the link.  Thank you so much!

 

 

My Summer of Connecting

Me, Andy Plemmons, and Okle Miller at ISTE EdTech Kareoke

Me, Andy Plemmons, and Okle Miller at ISTE EdTech Kareoke

When I first got into education, I thought of networking as something that only people in big businesses did.  It was an ugly word, with sleazy, self-serving connotations.  Fast forward a few years, and I realized that my favorite thing about going to conferences was getting to hang out with like-minded, passionate, inspiring educators.  I joined Twitter and met other teachers and librarians from all over the world.  And I began to see that networking is not a dirty word – it’s about making connections, helping and inspiring one another, and building up a network of others who you can rely on for ideas, help, and encouraging words.

I had a very busy summer this year, and looking back on it, I’ve realized that it was all about connecting with other educators and finding a shared passion.

 

Me and Allison Fuller-Mulloy

Me and Allison Fuller-Mulloy

Obviously, the highlight of my summer was ISTE 2014.  I got to meet and hang out with so many of my Twitter friends.  I met new people who I’ve since talked with a lot on Twitter.  It was so inspiring and encouraging to hang out with all of these visionary educators and hear about the amazing things going on at their schools.

3D Printing at the HIVE

3D Printing at the HIVE

I spent a lot of time this summer visiting local Makerspaces, learning from those who work there and getting great ideas.  It gave me a chance to share about what we’re doing at my school and to make connections with other Makers.  We already had Tampa Hackerspace visit our school last year and I see opportunities for working together with The Hive and Mosi’s IdeaZone as well.

Benito Middle School's Makerspace

Benito Middle School’s Makerspace

I got a lot of chances to meet up with other media specialists in my district too.  I met up with friends for breakfast and coffee at our HASLMS (Hillsborough Association of School Library Media Specialists) Book Club.  I visited a first-year high school media specialist and got to hear about how she’s redesigning her school’s media center.  I met up with another media specialist to help her get started with Twitter and Instagram.  I got to visit my alma mater Benito Middle School and hang out with Sundi, where we chatted about Makerspaces (their school is going to have an awesome new makerspace this year – she’s already ordered a Makerbot Mini, organized a Maker club and set up monthly collaboration projects with the Technology teacher).

And then of course, there’s all the wonderful connections I’ve made on Twitter.  There’s so many people on there who I’ve never met in real life, yet continue to inspire me everyday.  I’ve found such a supportive, encouraging community there.  When I posted my image of the plans for our Maker Corner, I received reaffirmation that we’re moving in the right direction at my school (and I may have inspired a few people to create LEGO walls in their schools too).

What connections did you make over the summer?  How have other educators influenced and inspired you?

The Third Teacher

third teacher
I’d been hearing over and over again from pretty much everyone that I absolutely needed to read The Third Teacher.   I received it as a birthday gift back in Februrary, but didn’t get around to reading it until this summer.  At first, it took me a bit to get used to the design of the book.  There’s a lot of different typefaces, pages of nothing but quotes, and articles that get interrupted by shorter pieces.  But once I was able to get into the flow of the book, I loved it!  It was such a wonderful reaffirmation for me on the importance of creating physical spaces that are conducive to learning, of taking care of the health of our students through things like clean air and good food, of creating opportunities for students to be exposed to nature.

Here’s some of my favorite take-aways and quotes from the book:

“Make it new – look at your space with 21st century eyes: Does it work for what we know about learning today, or just for what we knew about learning in the past?” – p 57

Over and over, The Third Teacher emphasizes that our learning spaces need to change to reflect the way that students learn today.  Rows and rows of desks set up as a lecture theater are not helping our students to learn and grow.  We need to be willing to invest time and money to create spaces where students can develop the skills they will need to become productive citizens: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, inquisitivenss.

“An environment rich in evocative objects – whether it’s a classroom or a museum – triggers active learning by letting students pick what to engage with.” – p 67

“Children of all ages need places where they can learn by touching, manipulating, and making things with their hands.” p 175

I love this concept of creating museum-like spaces in school.  So many of my students are hands-on, kinesthetic learners.  Having physical objects that they can touch and explore will help them to discover and grow.  This is part of why I’m creating a Makerspace at my school.

“A learning space that can be reconfigured on a dime will engage different kinds of learners and teachers.” – p 89

Yes!  This is why I have loathed the heavy wooden tables and chairs that came with my library, and why we’re getting new furniture (in a few weeks!) to create flexible collaborative spaces.

“Children need comfort just as much at school as they do at home.  Give them a soft, quiet, and cozy area to play in by themselves or with a few friends.” – p 133

This is one of those areas I need to work on.  My library is very active, and it can get loud sometimes.  Most of my kids are fine with this, but there are some who really crave a quiet, calm space.  I’m working on ideas to set off a little corner of the library that can serve this purpose.

“Every school is located in a particular place with its own features and natural history.  Call attention to a school’s site with design, construction, and signage.” p 147

My school is located right on the shore of the Hillsborough River.  We have science classes that learn about water quality by testing river water.  Our PE classes have a fishing unit that includes catch and release programs.  What other ways can we take advantage of this amazing natural resource?  How can I bring some of that in to the library?

This book has given me a lot of ideas and resources for future grants and projects I’d like to see happen at my school.  I want to collaborate with some science classes to study air quality and see how we can improve our school’s air quality with purifiers and indoor plants.  My PTSA has been talking about creating an outdoor classroom, which has so much potential.  I’d love to see the quality of the food made available to students improve as well, but that one will be harder to accomplish, being in the 9th largest school district in the country.

Book Review: The Eye of Minds

eye of minds

I loved The Maze Runner when it first came out, and quickly devoured the sequels.  When I heard that Dashner had come out with a sci-fi gaming thriller, The Eye of Minds, I knew I wanted to read it, and it did not disappoint.

Here’s my review from Goodreads:

In a futuristic world, virtual reality gaming has risen to another level. Gamers can step into their gaming coffins and have a complete sensory experience for days at a time. They can take risks and do things they wouldn’t normally do, because even if they die in a game, they’ll just wake up back in their coffin. But someone named Kaine is messing with that order, and people are dying in real life.

Micheal is a gamer who longs to get to make it to the deepest hidden levels of the gaming world. The VNS, the government authority over gaming, give him a mission to find Kaine and stop him. And they don’t give him a choice either.

This was a great, fast-paced, action packed sci-fi thriller, with lots of twists and turns that you don’t expect. The book is satisfying, and leaves you itching to get the sequel. There are a couple of mature parts (witnessing a suicide first-hand, references to “pleasure shacks”), but they aren’t bad enough to push it into YA territory. Awesome middle grade read.

 

Weekly reads: August 3, 2014

WeeklyReads2

*Welcome to Weekly Reads.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo throughout the week, I come across a lot of great resources that I think others would benefit from.  This post is my place to bring together some of my favorite finds of the week and share them with you.  Enjoy!*

 

Education/ Libraries

Makerspaces

Technology/ Tools

littleBits Summer of STEAM

Screenshot 2014-07-31 17.10.08

With limited budgets in my district for books, supplies, and materials, I spend a lot of time writing grants and entering contests to help provide a inviting, collaborative space with a diverse range of tools and resources for my students.  About a month ago, I put together an entry in the littleBits Summer of STEAM contest.  I had heard about it on Twitter, and decided to go for it.  I’ve been planning to add littleBits to our library Makerspace for awhile, and was also starting to work on grants and DonorsChoose projects to get some next year.  The contest was a random drawing, but I still spent some time putting together a good bit about how I want to incorporate littleBits into our program.  Here’s my entry:

This year, we started a Makerspace in our school library. It began as a simple bin of K’nex set out on a table, and it’s been growing ever since. Now on any given school day, you’ll see students in the library creating sculptures with LEGOS, racing cars made from K’nex, taking apart broken technology, and exploring electrical circuits. Having littleBits available for our students to tinker with would bring everything full circle and greatly enhance their STEAM experiences. Now instead of just building a house out of LEGOs, they could design an alarm system to ward off intruders. Instead of making an origami flower, they can create a flower that spins when you push a button. There’s so many possibilities for tinkering with littleBits in our Makerspace – I can’t wait to see what the kids come up with!

I hadn’t really thought much about the contest in awhile, and I had already begun talking with littleBits at ISTE about collaborating.  Then yesterday, out of the blue, I got this very awesome tweet:

Screenshot 2014-07-31 17.18.53

I was jumping up and down excited!  I didn’t even fully realize just how awesome it was until I went over the littleBits blog post about the contest:

Screenshot 2014-07-31 17.02.27

When I entered this contest, I was hoping that maybe I would receive a workshop kit.  But I didn’t get a workshop kit – I got an entire Pro Library!  With a really cool storage system and enough bits to have 32 students working with it.  I’ve already created a littleBits Pinterest board so I can start collecting ideas and inspiration.  I’m brainstorming ideas for how we’ll use them in our Makerspace – right now I’m thinking about seeing if we can build mobile carts to mount the storage to and wheel them out into the library, that way we can have more flexibility and security for when we’re not using them.  My school administration just approved an after-school STEAM Maker Club too, so I know we’ll be creating some awesome projects with these.

This is seriously one of the best things that’s happened to me this summer. This school year is going to be epic.

Screenshot 2014-07-31 17.04.30

The STEM Maker Library Grant

Our STEM Maker Library

Our STEM Maker Library

In all the craziness of last year, I forgot to blog about one of the grants we received.  Almost every year that I’ve been a media specialist, I’ve applied for a grant from the Hillsborough Education Foundation.  In previous years, I’ve applied for more graphic novels, books geared towards reluctant readers, and audiobooks.  This year, I wanted to create a grant that would help our library to support our growing Makerspace program.  I’d had many students come up to me asking for books about video game design, Arduino, 3D printing, etc.  Since I knew that the demand would only grow as students came to know more about Making, I knew that we needed to get some more resources available for students.  Yes, there are TONS of great resources online, but there’s still something about having a physical book in your hands.  And for some students, grabbing a book during their 5 minutes of library time might be the only way to expose them to current topics like this.  And it’s pretty cool to have a book on LEGOs or duct tape projects open as you’re actually working on them.

Students using the new LEGO books at our LEGO table

Students using the new LEGO books at our LEGO table

The grant was for a total of $1,000, and it was a matching grant, meaning that we had to match with $500.  I ended up using cash we raised during our spring bookfair.  It felt like a lot at first, but considering that it meant we were getting quality Makered books essentially at half price, it didn’t seem so bad.

I picked out several topics that I either knew the kids were already interested in, or that I predict they will become interested in as our Makerspace grows.  I tried to go with hardcovers as much as possible, but there were some paperbacks in there too.  Here’s a sampling of the topics and titles we chose:

Crafts

LEGOs

Makered

Making origami with our new origami books

\Making origami with our new origami books

Because of timing with vendors, we weren’t able to get the books until the very end of the year.  I got a chance to introduce the books to one of our science classes, and the reaction was good.  Several students immediately took the LEGO books over to our LEGO table and started working on a castle.  My video game design nerds excitedly flipped through our books on video game art and game design as a career.  A couple of 8th graders took the origami books behind the check out desk and started folding some scrap paper.  These books are going to be a fabulous addition to our library as our Makerspace program grows.

Weekly reads: July 27, 2014

WeeklyReads2

*Welcome to Weekly Reads.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo throughout the week, I come across a lot of great resources that I think others would benefit from.  This post is my place to bring together some of my favorite finds of the week and share them with you.  Enjoy!*

Education/ Libraries

Makerspaces

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.