Happy first day of spring! We are celebrating here in Loudoun County, Virginia with yet another snow day. Luckily, we were able to make it to the last day of my Read Across America challenge yesterday. I am mildly satisfied with the participation level for this contest. The snow days at the beginning really got things off to a slow start and I think that some kids just lost the momentum at that point. I also think that next time I will need to do a better job with getting the teachers on board before the contest begins. The teachers who really got excited about the contest had classes with MUCH higher participation levels than the other classes, so I would like to increase that effect next school year. I think I will start the contest even later next year so that snow days won’t be as much of an issue. I don’t want to wait too long, however, because I don’t want to get into testing season. I will have to find the sweet spot which I think will fall somewhere in later March. Maybe a March Madness theme next year…?
In the meantime, I promised some updates about what my upper grade students have been doing. We are really focusing on research as the year progresses. The library is such a perfect place to teach about locating, evaluating, and using information, so all of my upper grade classes are diving into research skills.
The third graders are deep into their Famous Americans project in my library. I describe this project in detail on pages 46-51 of The Tibrarian Handbook. My current set-up of seeing third graders for two 30-minute sessions per week has proven very useful for this project. I usually do a lesson for our first session and then students check out their books and read during our second session. During this project, I can do modeling and have students work on their notes during the first session, and then give students more time to work on their notes during our check-out session. I am sticking pretty close to the timeline for this project that I laid out in my book, but I have made a change to the final product that I wanted to share. After students have finished taking their notes, I will model for them how to translate those notes into sentences that will become a paragraph about their famous American. We will talk about using transition words and varying the way that sentences begin in order to make their writing more interesting. I will ask the students to write the rough drafts of their paragraphs on notebook paper, but they will complete their final drafts on this Super Hero Sheet[pdf]. We will discuss how all of our famous Americans are like “super heroes” who have done great things for our country. The students will then use the super hero outline on the top of their sheets to turn their famous Americans into super heroes.
The best part about this addition is that students get to design a cape for their “Super American” that represents the famous things that the American did for our country. Adding this artistic element encourages students to really be creative in their thinking and gives them another opportunity to use the information that they have gathered. My students are still taking notes at this point, but we should be moving on to the writing and drawing portion of the project in early April.
After a rousing game of Dewey Decimal Sort (see my post from last year for an explanation), my fourth graders were ready to move on to something new. I usually do some sort of research project at this point in the year, but I decided to change things up a bit and start my unit on information sources. Our state tests have included more and more “research skill” type questions in the last couple of years, so I wanted to make sure to get this unit in BEFORE testing begins. I started out by talking to the students about how there are so many different places and tools that we can use to get information in today’s world. I then divided the students into small groups and gave them 5 minutes to list as many sources of information as they could think of. When the time was up, we compared lists and I awarded points to groups with unique answers. They came up with most of the standard sources like encyclopedias and dictionaries, but thought of some more creative ones as well like menus and museums. I applauded the groups for their knowledge of information sources, but then reminded them that simply knowing which sources are available is only 1/3 of the battle. They also need to be able to know WHEN and HOW to use each source. I explained that we would spend the next several weeks looking at some of the most commonly used sources and practicing using them effectively.
We started our resource journey with dictionaries and thesauruses. After a brief reminder of the uses of each source, I asked the groups to complete a Resource Challenge.
Students had to answer 6 questions using either the dictionary or thesaurus. They had to identify which source they used and find the correct answer using that source. We discussed answers and strategies after the groups completed the challenge. This lesson didn’t go as well with my first class of fourth graders because the original resource challenge that I created was greatly flawed. I made the silly mistake of creating the challenge at home without one of my student dictionaries in front of me. I learned mid-activity that the words “noxious,” “succinct,” and “verbose” are not in the student dictionary! I had to stop students from working and just talk them through what they WOULD have done if they had the proper tools. Embarrassing! Needless to say, I changed the worksheet that night and the corrected one is what I have shared with you!
Next week we will move on to encyclopedias and atlases and then we will tackle the almanac. After our “tour of resources” I will have the students compete in my Amazing Information Source Race which I describe on pages 63-64 of The Tibrarian Handbook.
I am currently working my way through the Common Sense Media unit on digital citizenship with my fifth graders. I talked about Common Sense Media’s curriculum in my blog post on March 6th and things have been going well since I started the program with my fifth graders. I have found that the lessons have taken a bit longer than I expected because the kids have A LOT to say about this topic. I see my fifth graders for an hour each week, so we do have a good amount of time to work with. I have had to make sure to keep the check-out portion of our sessions as brief as possible, however, in order to make it through each lesson. It seems to work out well to create a presentation for my interactive whiteboard for each lesson. That method is helping to keep the discussion on track and to remind me of the questions I want to ask the students. I am excited to get to our lesson next week, as we are discussing keywords and how to craft the best online searches. I was able to reserve some laptops (hurray!!), so the students will get to work in groups to practice searching using keywords.
It was interesting when I introduced the keyword lesson at the end of this week’s session. I asked the students if they understood how the Internet works and they were clueless! For all of their knowledge of chat rooms and blogs, online gaming and social media, they had no idea how the technology actually works. I was glad I took the time to give them a little background on LANs (Local Area Networks), WANs (Wide Area Networks) , servers, and URLs. At least the technology doesn’t seem so much like “magic” to them anymore!
I hope it is warmer where you are, Tibrarians, and that you are close to enjoying a relaxing spring break!