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.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

How High Can You Go?

We are well into the second year of a making and tinkering program funded and supported by SpectrUM at the University of Montana. The initial program began with 5th graders and they continue to be the focus, and from the start teachers have embraced the STEM labs.

New this year are Strawbees - think an updated version of Tinker Toys that use varying shapes of connectors and, as the name suggests, straws. Fifth graders tried out Strawbees for the first time last January, with some whimsical results:

On the Friday before spring break, all of the 5th graders participated in a Strawbees challenge that urged them to build as high a freestanding Strawbees structure as they could manage in just 10 minutes. They came up with a wide variety of structures and some even managed to have some fun:


The labs will continue well into May with activities that will include circuitry of various kinds and some work with forced perspective.

Many thanks to spectrUM and, especially, to SpectUM Museum Manager Nick Wethington, who is inspiring a second group of 5th graders to see themselves as makers and tinkers.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Battle of the Books Comes to Corvallis Middle School

For the first time, Corvallis Middle School students have participated in the Battle of the Books. This is a competition in which teams of three, grouped by grade level, read a common list of 10-12 books and, during the competition, answer questions about those books. The titles cover several different genres, including history, realistic fiction, humor, and fantasy.

About 30 5th and 6th graders and a dozen 7th and 8th graders participated at CMS. The 5/6 and 7/8 winning teams from Corvallis participated in the Montana State Tournament on March 13 at the Missoula Public Library.

The Battle of the Books has been around for at least 30 years but is relatively new to Montana. Paige Merriam, a middle school librarian at Target Range School in Missoula brought the program to Montana from Alaska, where the competition is very popular. Paige and her colleague, Lisa Brennan, have been encouraging Montana schools to give BOB a try.

Thus far, most of the participating schools are in the greater Missoula area, but Anaconda, Ovando, and Troy also participated in this year's state tournament, and a 5/6 group team from Broadus participated remotely. The CMS administration and staff support the program and we all hope that interest and participation will grow in the coming years.

Our 5/6 state team, all 5th graders, was, left to right, Riley Dahlstrom, Caitlin Nelson, Arden Weidow, and Emily Jones (alternate). They placed fifth out of nine teams.

The 7/8 grade team (all 8th graders) is below. Left to right are Zoe Sampson, Skylar Tibbs, and Liliana Trail.They finished third at state.

Because the state competition was at the Missoula Public Library, we got a chance to explore a larger library space than we are used to. As the following pictures suggest, middle school kids know how to have some fun, including 8th graders in the kids' room and fifth graders enthralled with elevators.

The 2018-2019 reading list will be out next fall and we at CMS will be eagerly reading the books.