Monday, September 27, 2010

September 27 - Reasons Riordan Rocks

My house is full of books. This is likely to happen in a family "led" by a writer/father and a teacher-librarian/mother. The habit of reading aloud to each other had its beginnings even before we had children, when my husband and I used to take turns reading the Harry Potter series books to each other, a chapter at a time, to ensure that neither one of us read ahead of the other. Bedtime reading is a special time. For my son, he prefers the Time Warp Trio novels. My daughter likes novels a bit longer than those. After she and I were finished reading the Harry Potter novels (me for the second time, she for the first), we wanted to find a new series that three of us could enjoy together. My friend Rum, author of the blog, highly recommended the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. In very atypical fashion, we actually watched the movie before reading the books. I can say with all sincerity that the movie was a horrible adaptation of the book, second in its awfulness only to the Spiderwick Chronicles film (which my daughter, husband and I also read together and enjoyed immensely). The Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan are awesome, and here's just a few reasons why.

1) He knows his mythology.
These books deal with Greek mythology, no surprise there, but his knowledge of the various legends and monsters is incredible. Often, I'd see my husband sneak to his computer after one of our reading sessions to look up a character mentioned as part of the plot. He has modern interpretations of them, but these new twists stay true to the creatures, deities and heroes.

2) He "lays the pipes".
I borrowed this expression from my husband. The solutions to the mysteries in the books are not so-out-there-you'd-never-guess (such as in some Agatha Christie plots). Riordan sets up key clues in the story that make sense. This doesn't mean he makes it totally obvious - the family's had some very energetic discussions about what some of the prophecies mean - but he also doesn't pull a rabbit out of his hat as the improbable solution.

3) It's age appropriate, yet with cross-generational appeal.
Percy is a 12 year old with dyslexia and ADHD. He's a great protagonist, especially for kids who believe themselves to be failures. He becomes good friends with Annabeth - and that's all it is as a tween, unlike what the movie would have you believe. Grover the satyr is an environmentalist, not the stereotypical horny goat from the film.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Readers of this blog will know how much I like the works of Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, and Maggie Stiefnativ (I think I just mangled her name) - dd Rick Riordan to that list.

Monday, September 20, 2010

September 20, 2010 - Sitting in a Silo

Today was the first day of my annual book fair. Thank goodness my mother (who has been volunteering at school libraries since I was in junior kindergarten 34 years ago and hasn't stopped) will be coming the entire week to run it. I couldn't do it without her. I'm also lucky to have a former student, a stellar librarian-in-the-making, traveling to help after school.

Despite all these people around me, I was feeling a bit alone in my role. Our board has a new electronic communcation system and the conferences where I used to virtually meet my fellow teacher-librarians is due to close. In the past, if I needed a book to borrow from another library or a question to ask (as I did about Google Educational Accounts), I'd send a quick note and several people would reply with advice or directions on where to find answers. In my attempt to wean myself off the old system, I've avoided logging on there, and I'm unaccustomed to this lack of immediate connections. I got the chance to talk on the phone with a colleague and it was so rewarding that I'm sure I talked longer than I usually do.

Even with this new blog address, I feel like I am shouting in the wind or sitting in a silo, surrounded by grain but only able to hear the echo of my own voice. In the old blog provider, at least I'd be able to see that I had 6 or 12 reads - right now, I have no followers. No need to join this pity party of one - but it does make me realize that you can have all these marvelous means of interaction around but if no one interacts with you, it's for naught.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September 13, 2010 - The Prodigal Student?

This is a blog primarily about school librarianship. (Really, I should put that somewhere in the title banner or somewhere prominent, so people aren't misled.) However, like most things, the other elements of my life influence what I write about.

I try hard to make just one post a week. Ideally, I try to make it on a Monday (ergo the name of the blog) but as long as I get it close to the day, I'm satisfied.

Today I had a weird converging kind of experience in which parenting, church, and teaching all came together. Today's gospel at church was about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. As I was listening and giving my son the "you need to behave" look, I had an "aha".

If you are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son, you know that a man has two sons. The youngest asks for his share of his inheritance, ditches his family for an extravagant lifestyle in a different country, and ends up destitute. He decides to return home to apologize and settle for working as a field hand for his father, but his father accepts him back with open arms and holds a big celebration. The eldest son is angry with this rejoicing for his n'er-do-well sibling and refuses to join the party; his father explains that the eldest is valued but that his brother's return is worthy of honour.

I happen to have two children of my own. As I've explained before using a car analogy, she is like a hybrid while her younger sibling is like an SUV. It takes a lot more parental energy to get him to run. We love them both a lot; the youngest needs certain tactics (intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, for instance) to help him along. Thankfully, my eldest child is not resentful. I think she knows that equality doesn't mean being treated equally.

Then I realized how this Bible reading can apply to school. If a child consistently brings home As and A+s on their report card, how do you react when in their newest report card, they get As and A+s? Now, how would your reaction be if a child who constantly brings home Ds gets a B? I'd presume you'd praise him/her greatly, make a big deal of it, congratulate him/her. Does that mean you don't appreciate the child with the usually high grades? Not at all. That's why Wayne Hulley's advice to SOS (save one student), given during his talk at the TDSB's "Believe It, Our Time is Now" rally at the ACC, makes a lot of sense and can lead to much celebration if successful. Heck, I think that's why I cheered in the library this week when M. said he found 1 of his 6 overdue books.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

September 6, 2010 - Wall Wishing experiments

I'm writing this a day late, but *shrugs*, that's better than missing the week!

Today was the first day of school, and at my place of work, we no longer have a "day 0" where prep coverage is postponed. This meant that we started right away with library prep classes and collaborative ICT slots with classrooms. The ICT bit is a bit of an experiment, an attempt to integrate ICT with the regular curriculum, use it for differentiated instruction, and provide in-school PD for the staff. The idea is to collaboratively plan with the other teachers for this period but since it was the first day and first week, we were pretty flexible about our itinerary. Code of Online conduct, lab rules, password creation hints, and that sort of housekeeping business was the typical request. However, I wanted to make sure there was some "wow-new" stuff so I introduced Wall Wisher as well.

Wall Wisher, found at, is like an online notice board. Creating a board is super-easy, and once you share the URL with people, then participants can post "virtual sticky notes" on the wall, based on the topic. I first was introduced to this tool at Treasure Mountain Canada in Edmonton this past June and was impressed with the real-time updates and paperless way one can save the work - unlike real sticky notes, which fall off the chart paper and are difficult to store.

As with anything, there were several glitches in the proceedings. For some reason, the page I pre-saved to use with the grade 2/3 class did not update the additions made from other computers. One intermediate student decided to be "naughty" and wrote someone else's name as the author and put an inappropriate comment on the sticky - and we couldn't delete it. My data projector was an incorrect distance from the screen due to a short cord, so students couldn't read the content of the stickies when they were on the carpet. Some computers had an old version of Internet Explorer, so Wall Wisher wouldn't run. When a teacher minimized the screen and returned to it, everything disappeared and she couldn't navigate back to the page. These little snags worry me a bit, because when you are introducing something new, it's best if it works smoothly, thereby giving "nubes" to the software confidence that they could use it successfully. I can rave all I want about how it's environmentally friendly (reduces paper), is equitable (shy students can participate) and promotes higher level thinking (establishing patterns in the data and sorting according to student categories), but if half the class can't get it to work, who's going to bother with it?