Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Library Special Ops

The CMS library does not charge fines for overdue books, so I have always told students that I would send the library cops after students with late books. The inspiration for the joke comes from the sitcom Seinfeld, In one episode, a New York Library cop named Mr. Bookman tracks down Jerry and asks him to return and pay the fine for a book he had checked out when he was in junior high school.

In the last few years, I have tried different ways to encourage those students who have helped out in the library: shelving, checking books in and out, processing new books, and occasionally helping out with fifth grade STEM labs. A few years ago the award was a photo ID similar to the ones that CMS staff members wear. Last year, Nick Wethington, the spectrUM  Making and Tinkering Specialist who has been helping us develop a terrific making and tinkering program, laser cut some wooden "Library Special Ops" cards. Students designed the card:

This fall, more students than ever before have been volunteering to help out in the library, which was very helpful at the beginning of the year when there were several dozen books to process. When a seventh grader started a list of Special Ops requirements and began working on a poster to recruit students, I realized that the joke had taken on a life of its own and that I would need to set up an actual program, complete with guidelines, duties, and benefits.

I am still working on the details, but it looks like the initial training in checking out books and shelving will take about two hours, with another couple of hours for learning how to process and take care of books. Those who earn the badges will need to continue to help out in the library for, perhaps, a couple of hours each quarter, or the equivalent of seven or eight recesses.

The benefits to students? To begin with, there is the tangible reward of the cards, given as tokens of appreciation for doing much of the work that would at times swamp one busy librarian. I also suspect that an official program is a way of promoting a culture of responsible caring and service.

Down the road, those who develop their capacity for kindness and for caring about the people and places around them are more likely to behave that way when they make their way into the wider world.

On a more practical level, library special ops agents will be first in line for limited entrance on cold days when the library is attractive even to those who rarely enter otherwise.

Check back in a week or so for more details about the library special ops program.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Fifth Grade STEAM Labs Return

Fifth graders began the fourth year of STEAM labs last Tuesday, October 1, by building and testing CD hovercrafts in the library. The STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) labs began and continue with the expert support of spectrUM's making and tinkering program. The hands-on experience has been so popular that teachers at all grade levels have begun developing their own labs.

As the following photos illustrate, STEAM labs can create a bit of temporary mess in the library. But the apparent chaos and the exuberant voices are evidence of creativity in action.

STEAM labs will take place every other week for most of the school year.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Maker Mondays Coming in 2019

This year's seventh graders were the first group to participate in a STEAM program that began in the fall of 2016 and has turned into one of the highlights of fifth grade. The program - Making and Tinkering in the Bitterroot - features visits from Nick Wethington, a making and tinkering wizard from spectrUM Discovery Area in Missoula. Until now, the program has been limited to fifth graders. But beginning in January, seventh graders will have a chance to revisit the ozobots, squishy circuits, and other great design activities that they experienced as fifth graders.

Beginning mid-January, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders can sign up for Maker activities in the library during advisory, lunch, and recess. Because eighth graders are eligible to participate, they will finally get a chance to do some activities that were not available to them three years ago.

The idea for providing some making and tinkering time came from watching some seventh graders trying out an activity using strawbees. With strawbees, designers use plastic connectors and straws to make bridges, towers, ferris wheels, clothing patterns, and more. 

The tools are simple, but the possibilities are endless. Here is what a few seventh graders did in just half an hour or so:

Maker days in the library will begin in mid January with a Strawbees building spree and continue every other week until spring break.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Winter Recommended Reading

During the school year I try to read a couple of books from the CMS library. Here are three books I have particularly enjoyed in the last few months.

A Monster Calls Book Poster Image

At the top of my list is A Monster Calls, by British writer Patrick Ness. Conor, the main character, is a 12 year old boy whose mother is suffering from cancer. One evening, just after midnight, a monster appears at his bedroom window. The catch is that this monster, which has emerged from a large yew tree up the hill from Conor’s house, is not the monster that Conor has been expecting. It is not, in other words, the monster of his recurring nightmare. This monster is ancient and wild, but not malicious. He has been summoned to help, he tells Conor, and that will require facing the wild truth.

Conor has more to worry about than his mother’s illness. A bully at school has singled him out for special attention, Conor’s emotionally distant and bossy grandmother is making his life difficult, and his father lives across the Atlantic with a new wife and baby daughter. And, of course, there is the monster, who tells confusing tales and warns Conor that he will have to tell his own tale or remain forever trapped in the nightmare.

In a book with “monster” in the title, a reader might expect more of the supernatural. However, Conor’s story is most interesting to me when Ness shows us Conor doing battle with the emotional demons that all of us, sooner or later, will have to face with honesty and courage if we are ever to be free of them.

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Another book I thoroughly enjoyed is Claire Legrand's Some Kind of Happiness. Finley, the novel's 12 year old narrator, goes on a quest to learn why her father disowned his tightly knit family years before Finley was born. She enlists the aid of cousins she meets when her parents send her to live with her grandparents while mom and dad work out their marital difficulties. Finley also finds help from a family that she has been told to stay away from. This book about family secrets and the family ties that bind will captivate readers.

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Family secrets are also at the center of A Corner of White, the first novel in the Colors of Madeleine fantasy trilogy by Jaclyn Moriarty. The story unfolds in parallel worlds: the streets of present-day Cambridge, England, where Madeleine must come to terms with a tight money situation and a mother who may be dangerously ill. In the Kingdom of Cello, where some colors can be dangerous, Elliott struggles to understand his father's disappearance. All is not what it seems in this beautifully written novel.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Battle of the Books Returns

The Battle of the Books program has been around since the 1980s, but is still fairly new to Montana. Students read from a list of books and, in teams of up to three contestants, answer questions about the books. The teams that provide the most correct answers advance to the state tournament in Missoula.

Students are grouped by grade levels: 5/6 and 7/8 for middle school. Last year, a team of fifth graders won a very close contest at the middle school and represented CMS at state, while an eighth grade team won the 7/8 category and placed third at state.

At this time, Montana is using the Alaska Battle of the Books list of titles. But as participation continues to grow in Montana, we hope to develop our own list and practice questions.

For a list of this year's books - all of which are available in the CMS library - click here.

Bugs Everywhere

On Halloween, fifth graders visited the library to put together insects they drew in an earlier visit. Fifth grade science teachers Amanda Bestor and Melanie Auch limited materials to those gathered outside by students: sticks, leaves, cattails, and so forth. We also let them use a little bit of foam craft paper.

The results were often striking: intricate, creative, humorous. Take a look:

Pine cones, dried leaves, glue guns, and two artists at work.

The two bugs above hint at student creativity.

These happy faces - on student and bug - sum up the day's cheerfulness.

Fifth graders will be back in the library this week to build zip line racers. Yes, it's a glue gun world in the CMS library right now!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Squishy Circuits Light Up 5th Grade STEM Classes

Play dough, batteries, and LEDs lit up the library on April 10 as Nick Wethington from SpectrUM led fifth graders in a STEM lab about electricity and circuits.

As usual, Nick Wethington, from SpectrUM, introduced 5th graders to the day's activity. In the photo above, he uses play dough replicas of Mutant Ninja Turtles characters to show how to get the electricity flowing through small LEDs.

There was no shortage of enthusiasm. Farah and Luci got into the spirit with several LEDs in one small play dough creation.

Some students developed more elaborate creations, like the ones below:

The next STEM lab is Tuesday, April 24. To find out more about how squishy circuits work, as well as more about the Making and Tinkering in the Bitterroot program, just click here to view Nick's Instructables.