Friday, August 31, 2012


Three Times LuckyMo LoBeau has a pretty great life in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, population 148.  After being born in a hurricane and separated from her mother during the flooding, she is discovered by the Colonel, who takes in the baby and raises her with the help of his lady-friend, Miss Lana.  Her quirky adoptive family run the town café, where Mo is in the center of all that happens in Tupelo Landing.  Though she loves the Colonel and Miss Lana, Mo never stops trying to find the truth about her past. With the fifth grade school year over, Mo expects to spend a normal summer working in the café, battling her archenemy, Anna Celeste, searching for her Upstream Mother, and hanging out with her best friend Dale.  Everything changes though when Detective Joe Starr drives into town.

Starr has come from Winston-Salem in search of a murderer.  Within 24 hours of his arrival, the town curmudgeon, Mr. Jesse, is murdered.  Soon after, Dale is considered a suspect, the Colonel goes missing, and Miss Lana is kidnapped.  Oh, and a hurricane, both literal and metaphorical, hits the town once again.  Mo doesn't know if she can trust the police.  She and Dale form the Desperado Detective Agency to get to the bottom of the mystery and save her family.

Shelia Turnage's debut novel combines murder, a bank robbery, amnesia, alcoholism, and kidnapping with a heaping dose of humor, no small feat.  This multi-layered story offers a well-developed plot, a rich setting, and memorable characters.  You might never find a rising sixth grader like Mo LoBeau, but that doesn't stop you from loving her hilarious personality.  What's most impressive about this novel is Turnage's ability build suspense to an exciting climax, which resolves in a manner that respects her young readers' intelligence.  There is no heavy moralizing in this story, just wit and charm that will have you waiting for Turnage's next story.

4 out of 5 stars
Recommended for grades 4-6
Excellent read aloud

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Library Orientation

One of my most important (and exhausting) tasks during the first weeks of school is library orientation.  Our school is grades five through eight, and I teach a library orientation class to all the fifth and sixth graders.  That means 4 classes of fifth grade and 5 classes of sixth grade, a little under 200 students, over two days.  There are few new students in grades seven and eight, so I try to find a time to give those students a brief, individual orientation during their first scheduled booktalk.

After going over the policies of the library and taking the students on a quick tour, I showed the students how to use our online catalog.  We installed the students' iPads with an icon that takes them directly to the library catalog.  Once they log into Destiny, they can see all our subscription services with user names and passwords.  They no longer have to waste time logging into our desktop machines and searching for the link to the catalog. I am hoping that this convenience and ease, will result in higher circulation statistics this year.  I also showed them how to log into Follett Digital Reader to access our ebook collection.  I will write more about the Follett ebookshelf later, but suffice it to say, I experienced limited success getting students into the program.  Those who were able to log in felt that the interface left something to be desired.  One boy quickly returned his electronic copy of Mockingjay and checked out the hardback.

I always end orientation with a quiz.  This year I was able to give them a QR code that they could scan to watch a book trailer; they then had to find the call number of the book in the catalog.  I also gave them call numbers, and they had to prove that they could find the books on the shelf by taking pictures with their iPads.   

I always feel like I need a nap after teaching the same thing so many times in one day, but I have to admit, library orientation went much smoother this year with iPads.  This is the only lesson that requires me to talk for the majority of the class period.  With it over, I'm ready to start fun lessons and programs!

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Summer of the Gypsy MothsElderly Louise is rough on the outside but as tenderhearted as a person can be underneath.  She lives alone in Cape Cod, caring for small colony of beachfront cottages. Within a few months, she makes a few radical changes to her quiet lifestyle. When her niece once again abandons her daughter, Stella, Louise believes that it is her responsibility to assume care of her grandniece because the child has no other relatives.  Louise also decides to become a foster parent to a girl almost the same age as Stella, Angel.  Louise may have hoped the two girls would become friends, but as Stella acknowledges, they are like oil and water.  They completely avoid each other.  That is, until the girls find Louise dead in the living room and then decide that instead of calling 911, they will bury their foster parent in the garden.  Didn't see that one coming, did you?

Pennypacker's novel is a combination character study and survival novel.  Stella and Angel want to avoid being sent back into the child services system.  Both girls need a little time; Angel is waiting for her aunt to come to the US from Portugal and establish the residence and employment necessary to assume her care.  Stella is hoping that a few months will be enough time for her mother to get her act to together and come back for her.  The girls must depend on each other to keep Louise's death a secret and continue living in the colony.  They clean and care for cottages as new families arrive each week for summer rentals.  Of course Stella and Angel must constantly fend off questions about Louise, and they barely have enough food in the house to survive.

What I enjoy about this novel is what many people have criticized.  The story is farfetched, but it's also fascinating.  I didn't want to put the book down because I had to know the consequences of Angel and Stella's decision.  It is true that the plot and the tone are mismatched: a sweet, friendship story about two girls who bury their caregiver?  Yet, somehow I think it works.  The novel is a more hopeful version of Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks.  Finally, I read complaints that the characters are not believable.  Yes, I have never meet an 11 year-old girl who is obsessed with Heloise or Fado music; however, I felt myself wanting to know more and more about the girls.  I wanted Stella to tell Angel the touching things that she learned about Louise because I wanted to see how Angel would react.  I loved the tension between the girls and their eventual friendship.

Summer of the Gypsy Moths gives us a wild story with unique characters and delivers a satisfying conclusion.  As I was giving library orientation to 6th graders on Friday, I noticed a student had her own copy.  She was on page 105 and she told me she loved it thus far.  I can't wait to hear her reaction to the book on Monday!

Four out of five stars
For grades 5-8

Friday, August 24, 2012

Great Articles and Links of the Week

I started this week thinking about Bill Ferriter's article Are Kids Really Motivated by Technology.  In our school we distributed iPads to every student in grades 5-8 this week.  Some of the teachers commented to me that they were surprised that the students were not more enthusiastic about receiving this fabulous new gadget. Some students seemed downright bored while going through the required training.  Aren't we all bored by tech training?  Ferriter argues that children are not intrinsically motivated by technology. What gets them excited is collaboration and social justice.  I would add that students become really motivated when they have the opportunity to find the best way to do a task and to teach what they have discovered to their peers.  This is true of lesson plans that don't use iPads, but many people find that iPads make collaboration, peer teaching, and self-discovery easier. 

Once you find the appropriate use for the iPad, it can be an incredibly useful tool.  Need proof? A study published this summer on the use of iPads at Longfield Academy in Kent, England found that the school's 1:1 iPad program had a “significant and very positive impact on learning and teaching which, in time, should be reflected in achievement and attainment, thanks to both pedagogical changes and new ways of learning engendered by the ‘any time anywhere’ access to information and learning tools.”  Another success story can be found in Perse Girls Senior School who made a wonderful video about their program.

For teachers struggling to find that appropriate use,  Edtechteacher offers some really helpful suggestions.  They list a variety of learning objectives that would apply to any subject and then provide a list of applications to help meet those objectives.  Finally, for those intellectual explorers, Edudemic gives you 50 Must-Download Apps for Lifelong Learners.  I was a little surprised that they left off Evernote, but it still is a nice list.  I'll be spending the weekend investigating these apps and thinking about which of my teachers might benefit from their usage.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Day 1 with the iPads

Today is the first day that our students are using their iPads in class.  I spent the day visiting classrooms to see how our teachers were using the device.  Not surprisingly, I saw a wide variation in usage.

In 6th grade science, students initially used Evernote to document their observations of Grow Dinos over 4 days.  The students used scientific measurement tools to determine the weight, height, length, and surface area of the sodium polyacrylate dinosaurs. The dinos will slowly grow when placed in water, and students will chart the changes.  By the afternoon class, some students realized that they could create a chart within Pages to easily document their findings.  They could then attach the Pages document to an Evernote note and share it with their teacher.

In 8th grade language arts, students had to write reflections of their summer reading, Boy with the Striped Pyjamas and Night.  The teacher asked that they hand write the assignment so that he could collect it at the end of the period.  Many students had electronic copies of the novels that they accessed via their own Kindle accounts.  The could easily refer to passages from the text using their iPad.  In the coming weeks, they will be writing papers with Google Docs and keeping a writing journal through Evernote that they will share with their teacher.

Some classes treaded lightly with the iPads.  I liked the 7th grade science class that began with a writing prompt: What do you hope to learn in science this year?  Students asked what application they should use to answer the prompt, and the teacher told them to use whatever feels comfortable.  When they were finished writing, they shared their responses and which application they selected.  This served to educate both the teacher and the students as to what is available.

Many classes I visited were not using the iPads at all because you don't always have to fix what's not broken.  With the help of peers and students, those teachers will find a use for these devices as the year progresses.

What I think students enjoyed most today was that they were trusted to find what works, to help their peers, and to educate their teachers.  It might be a stressful time for some, but I think it's great that we are all learning something new.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Here We Go

The rumble of the roller bags signaled the beginning of the first day of school.  Three hundred and sixty five middle school students arrived this morning, and they'll be coming back for 179 more days (not that I'm counting).  For a such a busy school day, I was surprised by the number of students who came by to checkout books, which was fantastic. My previously full new bookshelf is looking a little bare now.

The big event of the day was the iPad rollout.  After lunch, advisors gave out the iPads in their advisory groups.  The students then worked their way together through a guided Google Site loaded with short instructional videos, which our tech coordinator created.  They learned about acceptable use of the iPads, and they opened accounts in some of the educational apps our teachers will be using.

All students had to create an Evernote account today.  This will most likely be our major educational support tool.  All teachers are required to create assignment sheets in Evernote and then share them globally so that students and parents can easily see nightly homework.  Though our school has been using Google Docs for quite some time, the students saw an overview of the mobile version.  We ended the afternoon exploring Goodreader.  We showed the students how to import pdfs into Goodreader and then annotate them.

Today was not as painful as it could have been.  Many advisors were worried about being responsible for teaching the students about technology that they have not fully grasped.  I totally understand that; thankfully, the videos did a lot of the work in guiding the learners.  Tomorrow we continue with the Google Site and end with a test.  Students must complete the examination before they are able to take the devices home.  Then the fun will really start.

Monday, August 20, 2012

It Always Goes Back to Parking

This morning was open house for students.  They toured the campus, met teachers, and most importantly, decorated lockers all before the start of school tomorrow.  The library hosted an information session for new parents to meet each other and ask questions to the middle school director.  While the parents were interested in a variety of topics, somehow the conversation kept returning to parking.  I spent the morning running to different classrooms, trying to help teachers figure out why the laptop was not talking to lcd projector.  There's no time like the last minute to see if your technology is working!  The best part of the morning was seeing new 5th graders bravely venture into the library for the first time.  Even though we don't open until tomorrow, I think I made a 10 year-old's day by allowing him to check out Brian Jacques's The Pearls of Lutra.  His excitement made my day too.  On another high note, Ally Condie tweeted me today.  I'm really hoping that I can work with Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh to get her to visit our school during her national tour.  They will let me know soon.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Getting Ready for Something New

Just one more day until we welcome back the students.  The library is mostly ready with over a hundred new books, new paint, and pretty bulletin boards. Things will be very different this year as we implement a grades 5 through 8 iPad initiative. Every student will have his or her own iPad.  Our teachers have not had much time to adapt to this change.  We are all jumping in to this together.  My challenge will be finding ways for this device to help students with reading and learning.  I plan to document this adventure along with all the normal ups and downs of a middle school library in this blog.  I hope some educators and librarians will stumble upon this blog and find something interesting.  Please feel free to offer me advice; I'm sure I'll need it!