Saturday, 30 January 2016

Exciting Projects for 2016!

I have had a restful and relaxing break so far and am now recharged and ready to attack some exciting projects this year.  This will be the third year I have blogged about my work plans for the year ahead - I find it a good way to focus in on the major things I want to achieve.  This year my post coincides with the first 2016 EdBlogNZ Challenge so I will take that as a sign I should join in!  Here's what I hope to be up to this year:

  • Library expansion!  FINALLY this is really happening.  Our courtyard area is going to be enclosed with an outdoor screen to make it weatherproof.  We've already had some awesome tiered seating put in and had the roof painted sky blue.  Jenna, our fantastic artist, has an awesome mural planned.  Plus I've convinced her to channel her inner Michelangelo and paint clouds on the ceiling.  After the mural the carpet will go in and then we will have a much-needed extra space for our students.

The BEFORE photo

  • Makerspace.  This is the year I hope to implement a Makerspace programme.  In addition to lending Maker Kits, I'd like to use our extra space for a weekly 'making' activity, put up weekly challenges, and encourage student, teacher and community involvement (permission pending!). 
  • Facebook.  Last year I wrote a post on 'Advocacy through Photojournalism'.  It was about gaining support for the library from the community, by posting photos of children with quotes from them about reading and the library.  This is the year I'll start my 'Stories from the Library' album.
  • Programming/Robotics Club.  I hope to run a programming/robotics club this year.  I wouldn't consider myself an expert but I am keen to learn along with our students.  
  • eBooks.  I'll be focussing on getting the teachers onboard with these.  Earlier this week I stole a couple of minutes from their Teacher Only day to quote recent research and hand everyone their usernames and passwords.  I'll also be building up our eBook collection; I hope to work with reluctant readers to find the best books to entice them with.
  • Book Week.  After I attended Cathy Kennedy's session on book weeks at last year's SLANZA conference, I was keen to set a theme for our book week early and build up resources and ideas.  I'd like the theme "Spies and Detectives", which we could use to highlight the Mystery genre section in our library.  There are also lots of interesting activities around observing, creating codes, disguises etc that should be educational and lots of fun for our students. I haven't had a chance to run this past management yet though.
  • 'Community' committee.  This is a new school committee that I am involved with, aimed at building further links with our community.  I am particularly interested in our digital communication and getting our community participating in Makerspace activities.
  • Student Digital Leaders.  This is still up in the air but it's an exciting opportunity to build digital skills within the school.

In addition to these things I'll also be continuing to improve my book club, help with the Te Totara Times, run library skills sessions and promote the use of the book fridge.  Good thing I've rested up!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

My 5 Star Reads from 2015: Children's Non-Fiction

Here's the last in my series of reviews about the top books I read last year:

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson
This is an inspiring true story about a boy who was born with a disability in a country (Ghana) where many people considered him to be cursed.  He hopped to school, played soccer on crutches and eventually found a job to support his family.  He went on to cycle across Ghana in order to raise awareness about the treatment of people with disabilities.

If...:  A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David J. Smith
"Some things are so huge or so hold that it's hard to wrap your mind around them.  But what if we took these big, hard-to-imagine objects and events, and compared them to things we can see, feel and touch?  Instantly we'd see our world in a whole new way."  

An excellent way for children to understand difficult concepts; the illustrations are also superb.

Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns
This is a beautifully photographed book showing how butterflies are sent to museums and butterfly houses around the world (I'd never thought about how they got them!).  In the process of finding out about of a butterfly farm in Costa Rica, students also learn about life cycles.  This is a fascinating book that belongs in every primary school library.

Once Upon a Slime by Andy Griffiths
I'd been dipping into this book for a while but 2015 was the year I actually read it cover to cover.  As promised on the cover it has some fun ways to get writing and I used several of these when I started my Ninja Readers and Storytellers' Club last year.  If your students enjoy Andy Griffiths' books as much as ours do (like his latest, The 65-Storey Treehouse), then this should be in your library too.

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne
This is a really interesting biography of the life of Jacques Cousteau, written in a way that makes it accessible for young readers.

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant
A book about a guy who made a thesaurus...I did not think this would be as amazing as it was!  A fascinating account of Roget's life accompanied by gorgeous illustrations.

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson
The last of the four picture book biographies on this list.  I certainly had a great time reading about the interesting lives of people last year.  The illustrations in this book are gorgeous, as you can tell from the stunning cover.  The story is a concise account of Mandela's life that covers the key events in his life.  A great way to introduce students to this influential man.

Greek Mythology (Junior Genius Guides) by Ken Jennings
This is an engaging book that recounts Greek myths in a fun way.  A good non-fiction accompaniment to the Percy Jackson series.

Professional Reading

Like last year, I feel I must include one book that was great for me professionally.  Just like 'Once Upon a Slime' I had browsed this book prior to last year but 2015 was the year I read it all.

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess
Last year, I began teaching library skills and I wanted to make my sessions as interesting and memorable as possible.  This book has so many great ideas in it, it is positively inspiring!  There is bound to be something in there that you hadn't thought of doing.  It is a great way to bring variety to anything you are involved with - I also used it to get ideas for my book clubs.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

My 5 Star Reads from 2015: Children's Fiction and Graphic Novels

On Wednesday I posted a list of the top ten picture books I read last year.  Today I'll add my top five fiction books:

Pookie Aleera is not my Boyfriend by Steven Herrick
This is an Australian verse novel that takes place in a rural school.  It is written from multiple points-of-view and the insights into the thoughts and feelings of the characters as they interact with one another is one of its strengths.  A charming book about school, family and friendships.

The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni
Jax wakes up one day to a world with no people in it.  He thinks it must be because of a zombie apocalypse but then discovers that he is one of a group of people who experience an eighth day that takes place between Wednesday and Thursday.  An exciting story that combines magic, mystery and adventure with engaging characters and excellent pacing.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
I love books that help people understand or identify with a character who is struggling with something.  In this case the main character is unable to read and employs a variety of disruptive techniques in order to avoid being discovered.  I really like the insight into her thought process as we come to understand why she ends up getting into trouble at school.  The title comes from a popular quote from Einstein "Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid".

The Bad Guys: Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey
Mr Wolf, Mr Piranha, Mr Snake and Mr Shark are trying to become good guys by breaking dogs out of the dog pound.  Aaron Blabey's great sense of humour shines through, making this book a lot of fun to read.  I can't wait for the next one!

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Holly Black and Cassandra Clare are two popular authors who have teamed up to write this book about a boy who has been warned to stay away from magic but ends up at the Magisterium, an underground school for magicians.  This is a book about magic, a school, two boys and a girl...if you're reminded of Harry Potter you wouldn't be the only one.  There are a lot of reviews containing the words "rip off".  However, I happen to love Harry Potter and I enjoyed reading a similar blend of magic and fantasy and adventure.

Here are my favourite graphic novels from 2015:

Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers

Oh yeah, this book is awesome.  It shows Henrietta getting caught up in the process of making her own book "The Monster with Three Heads and Two Hats".  I can see students reading this and then being inspired to create their own books.  How cool is that?!

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Astrid and her best friend Nicole are discovering different interests and drifting apart.  A great book about the complexities of friendship with some interesting insights into roller derby mixed in.  Great illustrations, excellent story and a big hit with everyone I've recommended it to.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood by Nathan Hale
This is a funny, interesting overview of World War 1 told using animals to represent the different countries involved.  What a great way to capture students' interest in history and teach them more about it.  I'm not a history buff but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
This is a companion novel to Smile, also a fantastic book.  Both stories are based on the life of the author.  Sisters is about the relationship between Raina and her younger sister, Amara.  The story takes place during a family road trip but has lots of flashbacks so we can see how the relationship between the sisters has developed.

Although this book will obviously appeal to those who actually have a sister, I don't and I still loved the authenticity of relationship between the girls, and the wider family dynamics.  

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

My 5 Star Reads from 2015: Picture Books

Last year I went through my Goodreads account and posted lists of my best reads from 2014.  It was fun so I'm doing it again.  I read a lot of fantastic books last year, here are my top ten picture books:

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
One of two wordless picture books in my list this year, both of which can be described as sweet and touching.  Interestingly, there were a number of comments in Goodreads from people who liked the book despite the fact that "clowns freak me out".  It's nice to know this story of a friendship between a farmer and a little clown can overcome a common fear!

The Dreadful Fluff by Aaron Blabey
Aaron Blabey is one of my favourite picture book author/illustrators.  This book is described as "The world's first book about evil belly-button fluff".  What more do I need to say?!

Missing Jack by Rebecca Elliott
This is a sensitive book dealing with the death of child's cat.  It also deals with moving on and getting a new pet when the time is right, and that it is OK to love another pet.  A really good book to have on hand for students who experience the loss of a beloved pet.

The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett
Here's the other sweet and touching wordless picture book I read last year.  A girl sees a bike in a shop window and works hard for her neighbour in order to save enough money to buy it.  An unexpected twist to the story brings in lovely demonstrations of generosity.

Naked! by Michael Ian Black
A touching and heartwarming....nah, just kidding!  This is a fun book about a boy who takes a bath and then starts running around NAKED!  It reminds me of when my boys were little and people told me to give them a nice relaxing bath before bed.  Instead they came out energised and I ended up chasing round after them trying to get them to put their clothes back on!

Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar by Emily MacKenzie
Ralfy Rabbit loves books so much he starts taking other people's.  Arthur is the little boy who notices his books are going missing and sets a trap to catch Ralfy.  One that book lovers will definitely appreciate.

McToad Mows Tiny Island by Tom Angleberger
This is a very quirky book and I love quirky so I love this book.  McToad employs just about every form of transport you can think of in order to get his lawnmower to a very tiny island and mow it.  Then he mows one strip and takes a rest.  Which is my favourite part that you can't really appreciate unless you read the book.  So read it!  But only if you can handle absurd and ludicrous, this is not a book for the logical mind (yes he could keep a mower on the island, but that wouldn't be nearly as fun!).

Wolfie the Bunny by Anne Dyckman
This book started appearing on some 'Best of' lists near the end of the year so I decided to have a look at it.  It features Dot, a spirited bunny who is the reluctant big sister to a baby wolf.  She has the best comeback line ever when she threatens to eat a bear.  The bear points out that he is bigger than her.  "I'll start on your toes" she replies.  Gorgeous.

Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
Another book being talked about a lot, this is not one I would have chosen based on its cover.  Inside though, the story deals with the absence of Buckley's father in an understated and tender way.

Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem by Mac Barnett
This book was published in 2009 and the reason I bought it was because Mac Barnett told a lovely story about it in a TED talk (below).  The whole talk is interesting but if you want to hear about Billy Twitters specifically then start at 11:53.

Here are my posts about my 5 star reads for children's fiction and graphic novels, and also children's non-fiction (many of which are in picture book format).

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Bits and Bobs from 2015

My goal for 2015 was to increase my blogging and I doubled my posts from 2014.  I got used to reflecting on what was going on at work and the process of writing posts has helped me consolidate my thoughts and feelings about whatever I've been up to.

However, I still missed things.  I got busy, I had other things to write about, the rest of my life interfered.  So here's a catchup of the things I didn't have time to write about but wanted to.

I visited some libraries in Melbourne

Yep, confirmation of my geekiness. When I got the opportunity to accompany my husband to a conference in Melbourne (my first overseas trip in 20 years), what did I choose to do on one of the days he was at the conference?  I arranged to visit some school libraries of course!  And I dragged him to a public library, the Library at the Dock, as well.  Oh, and I took him to the launch of 'The 65 Storey Treehouse' and we were the only ones there without young children!  Melbourne is a beautiful city and I had a wonderful time sightseeing AND checking out libraries.

Awesome display from a school library

The innovative Library at the Dock

The very funny Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

Taking a Harley Davidson sightseeing tour 

Our school went optional BYO iPad for Years 3-6

Actually, I did start a post about this so I'll return to the draft and have that ready soon.  Watch this space!

I visited some libraries in Auckland 

As the treasurer and a committee member for SLANZA Waikato/BOP I helped arrange for our members to visit some school libraries in Auckland.  We had two tours and I went on the primary school library one.  I was so pleased to visit four lovely librarians/teachers who each oversaw four very different libraries.  I want to talk more about the tour, so I guess that's another post to watch out for this year.

Lego Wall from Sunnyhills Primary

I stood down from SLANZA Waikato/BOP

This was a very difficult decision for me to make as I enjoyed being on the committee and having input into professional development in my region.  However, I had just moderated my second #LibChatNZ, all about managing information overload, and that got me thinking about my work/home life balance.  It was hard to do but everyone was incredibly supportive about me stepping down and I felt better once the decision was made.  If I want to keep implementing new ideas in my library, moderating Twitter chats, speaking at conferences and keeping up a blog then I need to make some room for my family too.

I bought a telescope, a microscope and a sewing machine!

Now I just need to finish getting them ready to lend to our parents.  I hope to do that next week and will no doubt talk about this further in another post.  

I discovered the joy of podcasts

I have a Fitbit which I love and which reminds me on a daily basis that I get substantially less exercise during my work hours than teachers do.  Discovering some great podcasts has helped me increase my walking outside of school hours.  I've been listening to TED Radio Hour, Note to Self, Pop Culture Happy Hour, Dear Hank & John, Explain Things to Me, and No Such Thing as a Fish.

My students made some Kahoot quizzes

Kahoot was fun and easy to learn.  The students loved it and then we shared our book and library quizzes with our senior classes and they loved it too.  More of these are definitely on the agenda for this year.

My amended library extension got approved!

The library extension has been in the works since 2014.  Then there were issues with concrete, followed by budget issues in 2015.  I ended up going back to the drawing board and came up with the considerably cheaper idea to enclose the courtyard in an outdoor screen so it will at least be weatherproof and I can put seating and carpet in there.  Watch out for a before and after post in a couple of months.

I made a summer reading brochure

And it was fun!  I saw the idea on the library listserv and felt it was a great way to share information about the importance of keeping up reading in the holidays, our Book Fridge, the Summer Reading Programme we run in conjunction with Hamilton City Libraries, and our eBooks.

A new junior high school is about to start

Our school started in 2008 and has ended the last few years with over 800 students.  The growth in northern Hamilton is massive, so now a new high school, Rototuna Junior High School, opens this year.  I am fascinated by this because new schools are well placed to implement new educational theories and practices.  I am pleased to say that they are having a library, one that they will share with the senior high school when it opens next year.  They are also implementing co-teaching, learning modules combining curriculum areas, and "Flight Time," which allows students to explore their interests.  I am keen to see these ideas in action.  They employed our wonderful Assistant Principal and several of our lovely teachers so I am already impressed with their good taste.

My youngest son will start there in February so I have an insider to feed me information!   The school is BYOD so we've just bought our son a Chromebook, which is a great opportunity for me to have a play with one!  Bonus!!

Have a great holiday everyone.  I hope you read some good books, put your feet up and relax.  I am working my way through all the chocolate in the house, but as penance I've also gone up the Hakarimata Summit Track.  This is a 335 metre climb up 1,349 steps.  A friend took me up, waiting patiently during my many rest stops.  I provided much amusement to my family for the next five days as I 'walked' around the house like a robot.  Ouch, my poor calf muscles weren't happy!