Friday, July 24, 2015

STEM and STEAM Centers in the Library

     Last year I started Makerspaces in my library as a way to give my students more opportunities to be "hands-on" in their learning.  (You can read about my Makerspace beginnings here.)  I definitely learned a lot by jumping right in, and as with most things, found that some parts worked great while others needed some tweaking.  At the end of the year, I did an informal survey with mainly 3rd through 5th grade asking them "What lesson/activity did you enjoy the most in the library" and MANY of them mentioned our Makerspace activities.   I was super happy to hear that, and planned on continuing Makerspaces again this year.
     Around the same time, I found out that my district was going to open a new elementary school this year, and it was going to be a STEM school.  I went to several meetings about it, and was completely hooked in this concept! (It took me back to my days of teaching 3rd grade and all the inquiry-based projects I used to do with my students that integrated Science, Social Studies, and Math.)      So, there I was at the beginning of summer, brainstorming ways to improve Makerspaces when it suddenly hit me!  I remember it was like the skies cleared, the birds chirped, and the music exploded in my head all at the same time!  A huge smile came across my face as I said to myself, "What if I combined my Makerspace activities with a STEM/STEAM focus?"  
     I immediately thought of my library and how I could rearrange things to make 5 clearly defined areas, near a wall, for each station.  I moved some tables that I had up against the wall and made them go perpendicular instead.  This would allow more students (up to 4-5) at each table instead of only 2-3 if the tables were flat against the wall.  Then I looked at the wall above each table, and in my mind I could see posters that would state the STEAM concept, and give the kids an idea of the skills that they may use at that station.  So that's how I came to make these posters:

I'm thinking about making the main posters at Office Depot probably 12x24 but then make the "Challenge" sign just on 11x14 cardstock and laminate it. That way, I can change out and rotate the activities, and can either write in the activity or tape the instructions on the sign.  
     I also made some additional signs that combined all the concepts to post up around the library's Makerspace area and some bookmarks to hand out to the students as reminders of activities we are doing in the library.


If you are interested in using these in your own library,
you can find them at my TpT store or at Teacher's Notebook.

I'm super excited about starting this new way of doing centers and will post pictures once I get everything set up at school in the next week or two. 

What new things are you trying this year in your library?  I'd love to hear from you!


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Improving Fiction and Non-Fiction - Part 2

(This is a continuation of my blog "Improving
 Fiction and Non-Fiction-Part 1" which you can find here.)

     The next step I wanted to improve was how I taught the story elements for both Fiction and Non-Fiction books.  Last year I created an interactive anchor chart that I used in the beginning as we were learning about the parts of a story. The students helped me "build" our chart over the course of a few weeks, and at times I would hand out the pieces and ask them to put them on the chart where they were supposed to go. (You can read about that post here.)
     I liked giving the kids an opportunity to manipulate the chart and be active with their learning, but I felt like it needed something to help tie in these same story parts when we started talking about how to retell a story.  So, I went back to the drawing board this week to work on this.

Part Two: Improving how I teach Story Elements
     First, I created a smaller anchor charts for Fiction and Non-Fiction that I could use after the interactive activity and refer back to throughout the year.  I strategically put them in the same theme as the definition posters
Using the same theme again, I created Retelling Hand posters for both Fiction and Non-Fiction books instead of having to draw the hand on the board like I used to.  This will definitely save me some time! 
The next thing I did was create a bookmark so that the students could practice this information with their library books, and maybe even teach this skill to someone at home.
Afterwards, I started to think vertically across grade levels, and wanted to make sure that this would flow from the lower elementary grades (PreK-2nd) to the upper elementary grades (3rd-5th).  That's when I realized that while my older students would be able to use these posters, they were missing some new vocabulary that is introduced in the upper grades.  So I created a 2nd version for them, which includes the vocabulary of Conflict (instead of problem), Plot (instead of problem), and Resolution (instead of solution). 
I also went ahead and made black and white versions of all these posters so that I could offer them as handouts at our Open House Night and our Literacy Nights. 
If you are interested in these items, you can find them here
at my TpT store or at Teacher's Notebook.

I am super excited about these activities, and can't wait to try them out!  But, I'm even more excited that I can check off two things from my very long
The next improvement project that I want to work on is to create STEAM posters and choice menus to go along with my idea for a new way to do centers next year!  I'll keep you posted!


Improving Fiction & Non-Fiction - Part 1

     As I was teaching this past school year, I paid attention to lessons where something was missing or when things just didn't seem to flow right.  I started jotting down thoughts right after the lesson on what I thought I needed to make the lesson go better next time.  This grew into quite a long list of ideas over the course of the school year, which eventually became my
     My intentions were to start working on these ideas once I was out of school in June, but that didn't quite happen.  (Don't you hate it when you finally have TIME to work on something, but the creative juices just AREN'T flowing!) Thankfully, this changed after all the 4th of July celebrations (maybe it was the stress of thinking my summer was half over to light a fire underneath me!) 
     Anyway, I've been working what seems like non-stop since then to get some ideas out while I can.  The first lesson I was trying to improve was teaching the difference between Fiction and Non-Fiction stories.  The notes I made after teaching the lessons last year actually included two parts:  improve on how I teach 1) the initial definitions 2) the story elements of each type.

Part One: Improving how I teach the initial definitions
The first part was just teaching the concept of what Fiction and Non-Fiction means.  I used posters that I had used in my classroom eons ago, but they weren't perfect and I always felt I had to do more explaining that what was on the poster.  So I decided to create my own versions this summer. 
      After going over the definitions, I would give the kids a practice book from a variety of Fiction and Non-Fiction paperbacks that I save and use for this particular lesson (that way I don't have to go scrounging around to find books at the last minute).  I give them a few minutes to look them over, and then they come up and share if they think their book is Fiction or Non-Fiction.  I teach them to explain WHY they feel this way. The rest of the class gives a "thumb up" if they agree or a "thumb sideways" if they are not sure or if they disagree. We take a few minutes to talk about what the right answer is and why.
     All in all, it was a good lesson but I felt like it was missing an additional way for the kids to practice either as a whole group, in partners, in groups, or even by themselves.  So I created these practice cards that the kids could use as a Concentration game (to match the term with the story idea) or as a matching game with a partner/group, or that I could use as a whole group review.  There are 5 sets, which contain 8 cards that the students can sort through.  I also included a blank copy to use in a center where students can create their own examples. 

I also created a set of bookmarks that the students can take home to practice with their library books or teach someone at home.  I will copy them double-sided on white cardstock, and have the students either draw or write an example of a Fiction book and a Non-Fiction book.  I can check their examples and use them as a quick way of assessing their understanding of this lesson. 
If you would like any of these activities, you can find them here at my

I'd love to hear about things you plan on changing for this next school year!


Friday, July 10, 2015

Labeling the Parts of a Book

     I love the beginning of the year, and teaching the Parts of a Book is one of my favorite lessons to do.  I had previously created an activity where students actually help me MAKE a book, and then we reviewed the vocabulary on a large interactive poster.  (You can read about that activity here.)
     This worked really well and the kids enjoyed the activity, but the poster was cumbersome to bring out in the coming lessons for review.  I looked around for something that I could use, but nothing seemed to have ALL the vocabulary words that I wanted to go over with my students.  (I found that they were missing Title Page, Publisher, and Copyright Date.) So, I decided to create a smaller version of the Parts of a Book that I could hang up in the library.  I made 2 individual posters, but I also made a larger 16x20 color poster at Office Depot that contains both of them to hang up in the library.

I also wanted to have a quick way to assess the students to see if they understood the concept, so I created two diagrams for the students to label using the vocabulary that we introduced and/or reviewed.  I copied these pages double sided, and students could either take them home to show their parents or they could put them into their classroom portfolio binder as documentation of their learning in the library. 
Finally, I wanted to also give my students a way to practice this skill, so I created a set of matching flashcards.  I made several sets of these flashcards, and put them in those small brown envelopes that they use for our report cards.  Students could work together in pairs and play "Concentration", or they could work alone to match the picture to the correct vocabulary word.

If you think this would be an activity you'd like to do with your students, you can get it here at my TpT store or at Teacher's Notebook.

Updated 7/11/15:  Thanks to the suggestion of a friend, I have now included 2 new vocabulary words: End Pages and Verso.  I made these as separate posters: one poster adding End Pages and another poster adding End Pages and Verso (just in case you don't teach these words.) I also added an alternate version to the first poster which includes Summary.
I also created another version of the assessment pages in case your students have troubling writing the entire vocabulary word on the blank.  The 2nd version allows students to only write the letter next to the vocabulary word. 
Finally, I added the matching cards with both of these words.
I love when a product can be made even better!  
Do you have any other fun ways to teach the parts of a book? I'd love to hear your ideas!